Jazz and Eastern music have given each other mutual influences for decades. Don Cherry took courses in Karnatic singing in India, Coltrane inspired himself on Indian ragas for his later releases, and recently Canadian saxophonist François Carrier did the same in his double-CD Happening. On the other hand, many Indian musicians are very active in jazz-circles and actively participate in re-shaping it, like Rajesh Mehta, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa.
As Rootsworld explains it : "The late Don Cherry, the trumpet player who performed with saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "harmolodic" bands, explained that the symbiosis between Hindustani music and jazz comes from the fact that to a greater extent than having notes, Indian music has tones - 36 of them to an octave, so that there is a greater potential for playing "between the notes" and creating what is called free jazz.
However, unlike American jazz, or other western music, Indian music is built around the rag or melody, which the individual artist clothes and makes new with improvisation and variation each time the melody is performed. On the liner notes of his album, Ravi Shankar Plays Three Classical Ragas in 1956, the artist explained the very minor role of harmony, saying, "Indian music is modal by nature, and though harmony may be present in its simplest form, it is inherent, rather than deliberate. For the better and finer enjoyment of Indian music, Western audiences should forget about harmony and counterpoint or the mixed tone colors which may be considered the prime essentials of a symphonic or similar work, and relax rather in the rich melody and rhythm, and with the exquisitely subtle inflections through which the atmosphere of a Raga is built up."
In the more authentic mix of integration of both musical traditions, I can recommend the following, a little to everyone's taste.
- Azopa - Makahia - An excellent Hungarian/French/Austrian improv album with violin, bass and percussion (Zoltan Lantos, Patrice Héral, Achim Tang) - see cover above. Listen to Daksha.
- Ravish Momin - percussionist who is more avant-garde and has released some excellent CD's. See review of his last album Miren (A Longing).
- Rajesh Metha - this trumpet player brings also very avant-garde free improvization with lots of extended techniques and strong southern-Indian influences. Alternatingly beautiful and irritating.
- Natraj - Meet Me Anywhere, Deccan Dance. Indian jazz with Phil Scarff, Mat Maneri, Jerry Leake, and others : beautiful and rhythmically complex music. Listen to Footwear
- Kamala - Indian Song Book - a Swiss band with sax/clarinet, piano, bass and drums that brings very melodious jazz : listen to Oru Mandiram
- Jonas Hellborg - Kali's Son - Swedish super bass-player brings fusion-like Indian music, with electric sitar and percussion : absolutely unreal and a totally distinct sub-genre. Listen to Kali's Son
- Shakti - Saturday Night In Bombay - According to me one of the best (Remember) Shakti albums - this is not fusion in the real sense, but rather jazz-influenced Indian music. Listen to Bell'Alla.
- Jan Garbarek - Ragas and Sagas - Garbarek brings his icecold Norwegian sound in line with the warmth of Indian music, and through the spatial expansiveness, they find each other beautifully well. Listen to Raga 1.
- L. Shankar - Vision -This is a different kind of music, very powerful. Shankar plays his 10-string stereophonic double violin, Garbarek sax and Palle Mikkelborg trumpet. Listen to All For You.
- Mukta - Dancing On One's Hands - French/German/Indian ensemble, a little bit more mellow and accessible, but with nice sound at times. Listen to Shady Side.
- Rudresh Mahanthappa - Black Water, Codebook - Indian saxophonist who has made some wonderful albums with pianist Vijay Iyer.
- Vijay Iyer - Blood Sutra, Raw Materials, Reimagining - Indian pianist who has made some wonderful albums with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
- Rez Abbasi - Snake Charmer - Abbasi is very skilled guitar-player, who has his own custom-made guitar-sitar. Snake Charmer is an OK album, but his other music suffers from too much ingredients. A little soberness would increase his musical power.
- Trilok Gurtu - master percussionist, who makes more fusion. Has trouble finding his own style.