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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Indian World Jazz

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.
And then there are of course the Indian jazz musicians who let their musical traditions seep through their compositions, yet who play predominantly jazz.
  • 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.
In sum, some great cross-polination is taking place between East & West. It does not sound always successful or tasteful, but the search for new forms of expression can by itself already be worthwhile, leading to some great results. I hope that the above can give some form of direction.


Jean Francois said...

Bonjour Stef,

The saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa did a wonderful album with french bass player Hubert Dupont called Spider's Dance on Nocturne. I wrote a post about it here, where you can listen to a few sample songs:

It mixes indian undertones with their music, and even some african arrangements on some songs. I strongly recommend it.

Jean François

jazzgoa said...

Around one hundred years ago, a bunch of American musicians discovered the joys of improvising and called it jazz. Over two thousand years ago, Indian classical musicians were busy laying down foundations for improvised music. If jazz is improvised music, Indian classical music is jazz! Now that we've discovered who really discovered jazz, it's time to take a good look at the state in India. The name of India's most popular live jazz venue located in Mumbai, tells the story loud and clear. It started as 'Jazz by the bay', changed to 'Not just jazz by the bay' and should now switch to 'Just not jazz by the bay'!
Granted, jazz has a niche audience and commercial music rules, but then a few years later, that same commercial music is ruled out while jazz blissfully evolves, embracing all other forms of music along the way. We now have rock-jazz, pop-jazz, funk-jazz, latin-jazz, hip-hop-jazz, indo-jazz... to cut a very long story short, there is a -jazz attached to every genre of music and there will be a -jazz attached ot every genre that comes along. That's how huge jazz is and it should now be spelt jaaaaaaaaaaz!
Jazz is the medium through which I express myself musically. Jazz allows me to be myself as opposed to pop that wants me to be Madonna. I'd rather be myself than strut onstage wearing conical jocks. In fact, not very long ago a leading music company in India released a male indi-pop star's album titled 'Mai bhi Madonna' (I'm Madonna too) with the man dressed in drag on the album cover. Jazz suddenly began to make profound sense to me. I chose to play bass as I felt it was the coolest sound of music. Rhythm, melody and harmony makes music and the bassplayer is the important link between the three. I may not be upfront or in the spotlight all the time like the singer in the band but I am certainly right behind the song all the way.
It's been a long, exciting journey into jazz for me. I made a lot of friends as a musician and a whole lot of enemies. I did meet a lot of people. If it wasn't for my music I would have been a lighthouse keeper on Andaman island or what's worse, I would have been a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Yes, music helped me get out of my shell and face the world with a song. I currently work on two resident contracts at the JW Marriott hotel with my indo-jazz fusion ensemble called 'The Brown Indian Band' for obvious reasons and at night at the Taj Lands End hotel with my band called 'The Bassman's Band' for some strange reason. I often take time off from these two gigs to perform at concerts and corporate events all over India and internationally. One of the highlights of my career so far, has been performing internationally on the world renowned Hennessy XO jazz tour.
My journey into jazz has been fun and my best is always yet to come. To give back to the music that gave me so much, I setup an organisation in Goa called 'Jazz Goa' that can be reviewed at After close to three decades of playing jazz with just about every jazz musician in the country, I would have loved to be called the Godfather of Indian jazz. The position has been filled I'm told, so I'll settle for Godson of Indian jazz!

Checkout some of my bands and music at my website

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