Album: A Stagey Bank Affair
Artist: Arun Shenoy & The Groove Project

A-A-Stagey-Bank-Affair-Album-Cover-Art-1It’s been about three and a half years since I wrote about guitarist, composer, producer, and Grammy nominee Arun Shenoy’s groundbreaking recording, Rumbadoodle. At the time I found it fascinating that someone born, raised, and educated in India, and now living in Singapore, would produce an album of rumba flamenco music, featuring musicians from very diverse corners of the world. However, as I’ve come to learn with Arun, the one thing to expect is the unexpected. On his new, interestingly titled album (more on that later) Arun Shenoy & The Groove Project, as the name implies, venture deep into the world of funk, with elements of jazz-fusion, rock, and a bit of world music.


Arun describes his sound as “Bansuri Funk,” which refers to the above-mentioned groove Arun_Shenoyaspect, as well as the prominent role of the traditional Indian Bansuri flute performed by acclaimed Indian flautist Ravichandra “Ravi” Kulur throughout the album. As Arun shared in our interview: “Most of the songs on the album started off as jams between Ravi and me. I would send him a songwriting scratch with a drum and bass line, or maybe a guitar harmony and he would jam over it using a combination of his very rhythm percussive style of performance; or along a more melodic direction. And then I would keep adding on all of the other elements layer by layer till it all came together.” Arun’s love of the soul, R&B, and funk sounds of artists like James Brown and Prince had a lot to do with the inspiration for this project.


And now on to the decidedly enigmatic title of this album, A Stagey Bank Affair. There is actually quite a lot to this and how it relates to the rather deep concept of the album. Briefly, it is a phrase that refers historically to an agricultural fair in northern England back in the early 1900’s, that over the years, devolved into a place that became known for gambling, drinking, and rowdy behavior. Hence the album’s striking vintage fairground-themed artwork.


Here, in an excerpt from our interview, Arun shares about the concept of the album: “Conceptually, there are three distinct facets to the album. The most obvious one (visually) is the element of fun and fairgrounds that all of us can relate to in our own personal way. And the groovy, funky music, full of sunshine supports this visual imagery. The second one comes from the title itself A Stagey Bank Affair, the metaphorical reference to a place that used to be a fun fair and is now a messy affair. The third one is the slightly darker counterpoint of the Sad Clown, C-Song-Art-04-Sad-Clown-1where for many of us, laughter and misery becomes the balance-beam on which our existence is constantly weighed. The album was created at a time which was very difficult for me – mentally, emotionally, health wise and financially too. And creating this happy music was a release and a kind of antidote for all of that. Hence the album cover art is also an illustration of me as the Sad Clown. This album is a journey of that Sad Clown, who goes through the randomness of being in a colorful fairground, which is life.” So without further adieu, let’s head off to the fair and see what thrills and spills await us.


The album wastes no time in getting knee deep into the groove as it comes charging out of the gate with a slamming instrumental funk tune reminiscent of Earth Wind or Fire or Tower of Power. The song is called “Sugar Free (Featuring Uziel).” Special guest Uziel is a prominent American keyboardist, who lends his considerable talents here. However with 14 primary musicians in the group, as well as a four person horn section, and nine person string section, I won’t go into detail on all the names here, but they can be found at Arun’s website. Be assured however, that Arun has gathered an absolutely stellar group of musicians for this project.


The album’s title track is equally funky with a touch of jazz-fusion energy that reminded me a bitC-Song-Art-03-Mary-Go-Around-1 of Herbie Hancock Headhunters, the great 70’s era band. The various solos are short but oh so sweet as they weave in and out of the ultra-tight rhythm section. And speaking of solos, flutist Ravi cuts loose on the next song entitled “Mary Go Around,” delivering a blazing performance and holding his own in trading licks with an incendiary electric guitar solo, the combination of which define the term “Bansuri Funk.” On the next song, “Sad Clown,” we get to briefly catch our breath as the energy cools down just a bit on a mid-tempo smooth jazz piece that is anything but sad.


As the title implies, “Speedway Rush,” moves at a fast pace, and is particularly notable for its C-Song-Art-05-Speedway-Rush-1incredibly intricate and lavish orchestration that takes the song to another level altogether. An interesting change up comes in “Pirate on the Seven Seas (Unplugged) which, although played primarily on acoustic instruments, is certainly not lacking in energy and velocity in its non-standard time signature excursions. A track called “Hot Head Balloon” takes flight with Ravi’s distinctive percussive flute style that illustrates his astonishing command of the instrument, as the song flows through a series of movements from funky to floating. The opening groove of “High Striker” in a general way, brought back memories of one of my favorite 70’s groups, Average White Band,” and their classic tune, “Pick Up The Pieces.” A track called “Sky Coaster,” loops and whirls, climbs and dives, as it takes the listener on a musical thrill ride. I particularly liked the compositional aspect of the final track, “Mermaid Crusade,” which starts off in a high energy jazz fusion mode before slowing down into a more dreamy section, and then back into the groove.


Arun and company have integrated influences of the funk and fusion era and put their own unique spin on them. I’ve certainly never heard this kind of music with a Bansuri flute on it before – an instrument that is more often heard in a meditative context. As a huge fan of these musical genres from back in the day, I was blown away by the group’s take and updates on them – kind of like funk 2.0. Arun Shenoy is a masterful producer with a talent for bringing together the best musicians and personnel to fulfill his creative vision. Although he is portrayed on the album as the Sad Clown, he is really more like the Ringmaster of this sonic circus.


Arun and Roshni at The Grammys

Arun and Roshni at The GRAMMY’s

I must also mention the imaginative artwork and packaging of this project. A large part of the visual theme for the album was conceived by Roshni Mohapatra, the art director, who is also Arun’s wife. And she has worked with Robert Capria and his team at Actuality Films in NYC to realize this vision in artwork, packaging and animation. The album includes a 20 page booklet with 10 beautifully done retro-styled carnival art panels, a second 24 page booklet with additional artwork and anecdotes, as well as 6 more images on the album package! I love the nostalgic feel of the artwork and appreciate how Arun and his collaborators went the extra mile to make this such an outstanding multi-media presentation. There are also a number of highly innovative videos that match the theme of the album, one of which can be see here below, and more at Arun’s website.


With so much  focus these days on streaming music and downloading single tracks, the art of producing a fully developed album with theme that ties it all together, and artwork to support it seems to be becoming a thing of the past. However, as long as there are artists like Arun Shenoy, perhaps there is still hope for those of us who appreciate the complete experience a project like this provides. This album appeals to that aspect of me that is old school, both musically and artistically, although the music certainly feels contemporary. Arun and The Groove Project have breathed new life into a classic musical genre that has all the best aspects of an era, as well as taking it to the next level with their outstanding musicianship and creative vision, and I’m beyond impressed with their efforts. Check out this album and get your groove on!


Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: