Multidimensional artist Sumitra Nanjundan, known only by her first name, last month released “Bittersweet,” her fourth album, which includes seven of her original songs.
Produced by her husband Alex Machacek, “Bittersweet” also features a song adapted from the corpus of Béla Bartók, and personalized interpretations of the American songbook standard “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Freedom,” by former Young Disciples singer Carleen Anderson. Sumitra is joined by master bassist Carlitos del Puerto and iconic drummer Brian Blade.
It’s a breakout album for Sumitra, who over the last decade has steadily raised her profile around Los Angeles, where she and her husband, have lived since 2004.
Sumitra chose, wrote and rewrote the songs for Bittersweet from the summer of 2017 through March 2018. True to the title, the songs in the album are a collection of SUmitra’s autobiographical experiences and memories. There’s memories of her mother’s death in December, their mutual birthdays falling the same month and her December wedding anniversary.
“After my parents’ departures, I’ve been given a new definition of self,” she says. “I’ve learned that grief and joy can and do coexist side by side, in harmony — and it’s good.” The song “Make Me Whole” refers to breakup of Sumitra’s first marriage, while “Funny” depicts the origin story of her second marriage. Then there’s “See You Again,” written in 2008, which traces her 5 a.m. frame of mind just after her mother had concluded a month-long visit and “Take The Reins” portrays a close friend, who suffered from depression and eventually took her life.
Born in New York City to Indian parents, she moved to Vienna with her family at age 2. There she attended an English school and began her musical studies at age 5.
At age 10, she moved to the UK to attend boarding school. Eventually, she attends the University of Massachusetts, but after two years, unhappy with her chosen business major, she left school and returned to Vienna to prepare for the entrance exam at the Vienna Academy of Music. However, she became distracted from classical pursuits after unexpectedly joining her first band, Satu, as a writer and lead singer.
After leaving Satu, Sumitra began working with jazz pianist Peter Josel, who brought into the mix guitarist Peter Legat (currently leader of Count Basic), who linked her to other jazz musicians with whom she formed the first band under her name. Later, during the mid- to late 1990s, Sumitra became a regular performer at the Vienna jazz club Porgy & Bess.
In 1995, Sumitra released her first full-length album, The Secret Of Our Souls. This led to “a major record contract, which was an absolute disaster in the end,” and a year-long stay in London. There she functioned mainly as a studio singer, but also jammed with dance bands, and later on, after returning to Vienna in 1997, worked as a recording and performing artist, also singing in gospel formations.
That year in Vienna she met Alex Machacek on a gig; they fell in love, soon thereafter they became a duo, and then, in 2003, a married couple. In 2004, Sumitra and Machacek recorded the voice-guitars-bass-and-drums album “Indian Girl.” That same year, they decided to move to Los Angeles, where they are still based. 12 years later, Sumitra released her third album “Still.”
“For me, sharing my stories is about the connection to our authentic selves, to and with others,” she says.“Here I’ve kind of taken back my story — I’ve hopefully reached the point where I can show what the music is telling me about these songs, and can give them the right respect, treat them as they deserve to be treated.”