KARSH KALE

"Liberation"

Six Degrees

MING + FS

"Back to One"

Spun

For most of the tracks on his latest album, "Liberation," Karsh Kale is credited with "atmospherics." The Indo-American musician also plays percussion and keyboards, but ambiance is indeed his speciality. A concept album about "rebirth" and "dualities," the disc arrays both traditional and contemporary elements in aural tableaux of depth and, well, atmosphere.

Chanting female voices and the rubbery beat of the tabla are central, but electronics, guitar, flute and the Madras Chamber Orchestra are all in there somewhere.

Kale's style is far from unprecedented. Bollywood scores have long melded Indian classical-music motifs with contemporary styles, and lately Hollywood soundtracks have pursued a similar hybrid from the opposite direction.

"Liberation" isn't designed to complement images, but too often it juxtaposes pungent solos with sweeping, faux-cinematic arrangements. Even Zakir Hussain, the great tabla player who guests on "Milan," is almost upstaged by the string section. His contribution is nonetheless one of the highlights, but the album's strongest tracks are generally the leaner, more synth-driven ones. Such electro-raga instrumentals as "Dirty Fellow" don't lack atmosphere, but they also have considerable impact.

While Ming + FS are also masters of the arty soundscape, their fountainhead is not raga but hip-hop. Half the tracks on the New York duo's "Back to One" feature a rapper, usually Napoleon Solo. Not the nimblest of rhyme-slingers, Solo tends merely to slow things down. Ming + FS prove more articulate when working largely without words, matching beats to stuttering vocal samples. Drawing from dub, funk, drum 'n' bass and other beat-heavy styles, they craft dense, driving tracks with lots of evocative sonic undertow. Such swinging excursions as "Fish Eyes" and "50Ft Mole Man" may be too abstract for the mainstream audience, but if they were selections from a soundtrack, the movie would definitely be an action flick.

-- Mark Jenkins

Both appearing Saturday at Ottobar; Ming + FS also appear Friday at the Blue Room. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Karsh Kale, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124; to hear Ming + FS, press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

Karsh Kale -- it's all about the mood.