Arun Ghosh: A Very British-Asian Jazz Head-Space

Arun Ghosh: A  Very British-Asian Jazz Head-Space
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What I’m about is jazz. It’s just that I’m using another language to the blues, or show tunes or indeed avant garde experimental music. —Arun Ghosh
If clarinetist/composer Arun Ghosh continues as he's going there's a danger he'll soon dethrone saxophonist Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon

saxophone
as the UK's hardest-working jazz musician. In between gigs, festival appearances and European tours, Ghosh is busy writing music for theatre, film, dance and multi-media events. His relatively short recording career has been marked by a refusal to stand still and a desire to explore. Two highly acclaimed albums, Northern Namaste (Camoci Records, 2008) and Primal Odyssey (Camoci Records, 2011) celebrated Ghosh's British Asian background and his affinity for—besides jazz—rock, punk and dance rhythms.

Now, Ghosh expands his horizons with A South Asian Suite (Camoci Records, 2013), a consistently beautiful work that signals a new chapter in Ghosh's fascinating story.

A South Asian Suite is the fruit of a commission by Manchester Mega Mela—a huge open air celebration of South Asian culture that took place in 2010: "I wanted to bring together styles, not just from Indian, which is often very central to how South Asian culture is presented in the UK," explains Ghosh, "but also Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh."

To represent musically such diverse areas was clearly a sizeable challenge: "These are countries which because of geography, history and culture have hugely different attitudes to creating music," says Ghosh, "and hugely different instrumentation and styles."

The music, however, which was written on the piano, birthed relatively quickly and painlessly as Ghosh relates: "The main six movements developed over the course of a day and a half. It came very naturally. It just flowed out of me in a way other things don't. Being commissioned to write something can bring that clarity because you kind of know what you have to do." Ghosh talks of the self-imposed brief he worked under and credits producer Chrys Chijiutomi's significant contribution: "Chrys was quite central to the music conceptually," Ghosh acknowledges.

Though most familiar with Indian, Bengali and Bangladeshi styles of music, on A South Asian Suite Ghosh also taps into the Qawaali style of Sufi devotional music. Cinematic in breadth, Ghosh's music evokes vast skies, mountainous landscapes and pastoral scenes on the one hand and the rude bustle of city life on the other.

The suite, however, is as much about conjuring ideas and feelings as it is about representing musical styles: "It was meant to be less a recreation of folk styles and more of an impressionistic work," Ghosh explains. "It was coming from the head space of being a British Asian from a Northern town so a lot of these pieces came from my imagination; I'd never been to Nepal. The melodies flowed out of me, and I think partly that's the folk ethos. For Sri Lanka I wanted something very different; a different cultural head space that I represented on "Journey South" by a different approach to composition. It was more psychedelic in some ways," says Ghosh.

Despite the conservatoire elegance of much of A South Asian Journey, Ghosh's source of inspiration comes very much from the folk tradition: "Folk is very central to it as opposed to classical cultures and that's always been the case in terms of what really resonates with me from South Asian music, indeed all kinds of music, whether it's the blues or gnawa or rai music," says Ghosh. "That folk sound is the blues of a culture. That's what I wanted to tap into, not necessarily the sadness of the blues, but a musical earthiness. That was central to A South Asian Suite."

Anybody coming to A Journey South expecting a veritable United Nations orchestra of Asian instruments is in for a surprise. Apart from tabla and a couple of Asian percussive instruments it's a jazz ensemble that drives Ghosh's suite: "When I first wrote it I started with a much more South Asian instrumentation like sitar and violin" says Ghosh, "but later I opted towards a more chamber jazz ensemble leaving out the tabla. So, the piece developed like that for a while."

Ghosh's debut recording, Northern Namaste featured a host of Asian instruments, but by the time Primal Odyssey came around he had stripped his ensemble down to a three-reed front line, bass and drums. Ghosh was also drawn to that more stripped down sound as the framework of A South Asian Suite began to take a hold in his mind and the violin, sitar and tabla were dropped: "My reason for that was similar to my head space when I was doing Primal Odyssey; I wanted the inherent feel of a South Asian sound without needing to push that any further through instrumentation."

However, as the piece started to get presented in new venues such as temples arts and jazz festivals Ghosh realized that something fundamental was missing—the earthiness he was looking for: "I made a conscious choice to bring the tabla back in, which was quite a big thing for me in some ways because using South Asian instrumentation was something that I had been moving away from. I went through the whole process of thinking why do I want it and what will it bring to the music?"

Once the tabla had been reinstated there was not turning back: "It really transformed the atmosphere of the whole suite," admits Ghosh. "It changed the way the piano played, it changed the way I asked people to voice things, the way we arranged the horns, the way we structured the pieces with the solos. The suite took on the South Asian folk style I was looking for."

After three years performing the music on and off Ghosh felt the time was right to record the suite. Ghosh recruited pianist Zoe Rahman and her contribution is central to the cohesion of the suite: "I asked Zoe to really strip down in terms of harmony and the beautiful thing about that is that when she opened up, revoicing my chords, adding all those beautiful notes higher up, those thick chords and clusters of sounds—which I could never have conceived—that really brought the music to life in a new way."


Ghosh is full of praise for Rahman: "In a similar way that [trumpeter] Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
felt that Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
voiced a lot of the things that he [Davis] wanted to express but couldn't because he was a single line instrument I really feel that with Zoe—the beauty of her technique, the whole sound that she creates across the instrument is breathtaking. She has tremendous left-hand power and fantastic ears that allow her to harmonize things so beautifully.

"Rhythm and melody is so central to what I do and she embodies that," Ghosh expands. "Her music really drives forward. Her solo in "River Song" is less melodic and more a rhythmic flow that incorporates arpeggios and so on. She can move from that to something so lyrical like her solo on "Gautama's Footsteps.""

On the more full-on compositions on A South Asian Journey, like "The Gypsies of Rajasthan," "Sufi Stomp" and "Journey South," it's Rahman's piano that really drives the music: "She's the real powerhouse," says Ghosh. Bass has always been so important to me but here the piano has taken over and is driving the whole thing.

"In Zoe's piano I hear the rhythm, the melody, the harmony and the texture. She plays orchestrally. She can go from that extremely powerful sound on "Sufi Stomp," that real McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
kind of left hand that drives it rhythmically and gives the horns space to flow off, to the beautiful textures she creates on "After the Monsoon" and "Mountain Song." She paints pictures and so much of this music needs that. Zoe's a wonderful musician and so intuitive. Whatever she's playing on I think she would find herself central to it."

Rahman also proved to be a very positive presence in the studio, adds Ghosh: "I would give her a chord chart that would have a question mark under one of the chords. She just laughed and said "what is this?" I'd say, "Well I don't know what to call it because I don't really know what it is." She wasn't having that and we'd really get to the bottom of what it was I was trying to say. She was very clear in the studio when she felt things were going right and when she felt things weren't. It was a great working relationship. Live, she's been a fantastic foil for me."

A South Asian Suite clocks in at around 45 minutes, somewhat reduced form the early live performances. Ghosh describes being in his "pop head space" in the studio: "This was taking a piece that went from a live gig where there's call and response, or someone starts a melody and other people join in and you don't know where the next section is coming or whether not to move into it and so on. I wasn't having that on the studio recording. I wanted it be very guided and my writing had to have a structure that was inherent in all the parts."

The structure of A South Asian Suite took some of its inspiration from jazz's past, as Ghosh explains: "On pieces like "Gypsies of Rajasthan" and "Sufi Stomp" it was important for me to have solos but I didn't want an endless stream of solos so various melodies would interject. It was in keeping with the sort of thing I'd been hearing on [Duke Ellington's] Far East Suite (RCA, 1967) and [Miles Davis's] Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960) where the structures are so orchestral you are guided through by melody and riffs separated by solos. It [A South Asian Suite] could have been more expansive but I liked the precision of it," says Ghosh. "I think we really nailed it in the studio."

The long form of A South Asian Suite allowed Ghosh to explore new compositional techniques: "The suite gave me the opportunity to do something I've never really done on record before, which was to do those Indian alap-style intros where you move from one piece to another by almost evoking what you are about to play. The segues connect pieces but also give listeners a bit of breathing space and move you from the delicacy of "River Song" to "Sufi Stomp," so going from Bangladesh to Pakistan, from rivers and fishermen and a naturalistic spirituality to something that's much more devotional and rhythm and chants based. We needed to lead people that way and that's where the segues come in."

Form and structure are key components of A South Asian Suite but so too is the spirit of freedom that pervades the suite: "Improvisation is central to what we do," says Ghosh, "for the lyricism it brings and for the energy it injects into a piece. It's not the [saxophonists] Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
or the John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
approach where you play and become more and more expansive. People had a set amount of time to play, two choruses then bang we're moving on. I love the fact that everyone has a limited amount of time to say everything they want to say and take it to the next place."

Key soloists on A South Asian Suite are alto saxophonist Chris Williams
Chris Williams
Chris Williams
b.1978
vocalist
and tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman, who also plays clarinet and flute. The three-reed front-line originally developed from a line-up put together by Ghosh's manager/producer Chrys Chijiutomi; Ghosh, Shabaka Hutchings and Idris Rahman combined to powerful effect on Primal Odyssey: "It worked brilliantly," says Ghosh. "I think a three-horn line is so effective because moving beyond two you've suddenly got a section. You can have real power in terms of unison melody and parallel melodies. So often in standard jazz, from bebop onwards you wouldn't have horns accompanying other horns; the soloist would play and the other horn would sit out. Even on Kind of Blue the textures you get on "All Blues" where horns are accompanying each other on the intro and the outro is quite rare on the rest of the album—it doesn't really happen."

Ghosh talks of the influence of the old New Orleans jazz sound in his approach to using horns but his main influence came from Indian music: "It was modeled on [shenai player] Bisbillah Khan's ensemble. He had two other guys who doubled the melodies, who sometimes did little bits of improvisation and provided a drone sound. Then he had two percussionists with a dholak and a tabla. I basically thought of my three-horn front-line with bass and drums as a parallel of that."

Rahman, Williams—who plays in Led Bib
Led Bib
Led Bib

band/orchestra
—and Ghosh combine beautifully on A South Asian Suite: "I think we balance really well," Ghosh says. "The combination of clarinet, alto and tenor is great for a start, but their approach to horn playing is pretty radical in lots of ways; they tap into their influences, whether it's [singer] Fela Kuti, tradition, or whether it's [saxophonists] Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
—all of this stuff comes together and the collective sound is really strong and inspiring. There's a real joy to supporting each other."

Ghosh's route into jazz began at a formative age: "I came to the clarinet when I was 12 and the instrument just felt totally right," he recalls. "I remember [saxophonist] Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
b.1964
saxophone
playing on the TV in the late 1980s. It was a Free Nelson Mandela concert. I think Courtney had just put out his second album [Destiny's Song (Antilles, 1988)]. My Mum bought me that and I really kind of ate it up. I'm glad that was my first jazz album because of the energy behind it and the sort of modal stuff he was into around that time."

Growing up in Bolton, just ten miles from Manchester to first generation Indian parents, Ghosh was exposed to quite diverse musical influences, all of which have shaped his musical philosophy and performance style. Like many kids his introduction to music was through the recorder at school and straightaway he felt a connection: "That was really clear," acknowledges Ghosh. "I made up my own music and improvised. I played tunes for people. I played pop stuff I heard on the radio for my friends and on the other hand [Rabindanath] Tagore songs, Bengali folk songs or film songs that aunties and uncles would teach me and ask me to play."

This introduction to performance in informal settings was key to Ghosh's musical development: "From the beginning I was very much into music as a culture of communication," says Ghosh. "I'm really pleased that happened, more so than any instrumental lessons I might have had, or not had. The fact that I was encouraged to play for people is central to who I am and what I'm about."

Who Ghosh is and what he's about musically are the sum of the eclectic influences—geographical, ethnic and social identities included—that he has experienced. Ghosh's parents are first generation immigrants to the United Kingdom: "My mother came over in the late 1950 and my father came in the 1960s, both from very different parts of India. They met in the UK. That's an important distinction in some ways, because in terms of South Asian culture I'm mixed.

"My Dad is from West Bengal and my Mum's heritage is Sindhi, which later became part of Pakistan, hence the little reference to "Soul of Sindh" on A South Asian Journey." Ghosh's mixed South Asian culture serves as an illustration of the complexities of Asian communities and Asian identities in the UK today: "Our culture here is so varied," says Ghosh, "based on religion, class, how long people have been here, education, where you've grown up, segregation in various cities, which isn't necessarily present in other places etc. etc. etc. It's so sprawling."


Ghosh's own set of circumstances meant that he was exposed to a wide range of music from different cultures: "Through my Mum I was listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Through my Dad I was listening to James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
and Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
1920 - 2012
sitar
. We all listened to Michael Jackson, Nina Simone
Nina Simone
Nina Simone
1933 - 2003
piano
and Carole King I'm very much a product of the 1960s—The Doors, the Rolling Stones.

"Listening to that music was slightly different to your standard South Asian upbringing where two parents are from the same place and retain their shared culture. Because my parents were from two very different places culturally our common ground was England and English, Britishness. That influenced who I was, what I played and how I played it."

The music scene that Ghosh's parents' encountered in 1960s and 1970s England was vibrant and revolutionary. Manchester itself was home to Van Der Graaf Generator, Joy Division, The Fall and Buzzcocks—a heady mixture of prog rock, punk and alt rock. In the 1980s, when Ghosh cut his musical teeth, Manchester was no less a hub of musical creativity; New Order, The Happy Mondays and The Smiths all enjoyed critical and commercial success. Ghosh was drawn to the rockier end of the spectrum and by his own admission it has had a huge impact on his music.

"There was a lot of great music coming out of Manchester," says Ghosh; "Indie music like the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, the Charlatans, the Inspiral Carpets and dance music like 808 State." Manchester's club scene then as now was internationally famous and Ghosh hungrily absorbed the different rhythms to be found right on his doorstep: "As I got older I started getting into hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, Jungle and clubbing, going out dancing. I was also very into bands like Nirvana—high-energy passion. I think that's been central to the performance style I wanted to get."

Classical music too played an important role in Ghosh's learning the ropes of the clarinet and he took classical studies at the Royal Northern College of Music. Right around that time, however, Ghosh began to delve deeper into jazz and the two musical worlds couldn't happily co-exist. "I realized that the classical world wasn't for me," says Ghosh. The constraints of classical music etiquette meant that Ghosh's gyrations as he played were frowned upon: "Well, I tried," says Ghosh laughing. "I would move when I was playing Brahms or Mozart but I got criticized for it."

Ghosh hasn't turned his back entirely on classical music: "One day I'd really like to have the opportunity to play classical music again because I love it. But sadly that world was too closed for me—at least there and then—and I was too open for it." Ghosh gravitated towards a freer and more informal style of schooling— jam sessions: "I was going out clubbing and playing with DJs, playing with samba drummers, playing at parties and just getting a sense of whole other worlds," says Ghosh. "That was a really important time. A lot of the things that ended up on Primal Odyssey developed around that time."

There were also more instructional fortnightly lessons with Mike Hall, who Ghosh describes as "a fantastic educator." Hall taught Ghosh jazz standards, the piano and composition.

Shortly after finishing college Ghosh took his first steps as a professional musician and another important period in his development began: "I started getting work in theatre composition, working with Indian dancers and Indian musicians and learning katak styles. It was a really good grounding in South Asian rhythm because rhythm is so important for Indian dancers' steps and cycles."

For Ghosh it was very much a case of learning on the job. He would learn the tunes and melodies and play what he was told to play, as well as what not to play: "Through that I started to get my own concept of South Asian music. I think that's quite important," says Ghosh, "because most South Asian classical musicians study how the music is played with a guru and it's been like that since the year dot. I was lucky enough to be able to come to it in a different head space. I was in a position to think, what is it I like about this?"

Ghosh admits to having an intuitive feel for the music: "Even though I'd never really played classical Indian music before I think I had the right feel, the right flow and intonation, the right groove and the right sentiments, basically. It opened my eyes because it then started to influence my composition. Rather than just wanting to jam over the tabla it became important to me as an element of self discovery and identity to actually be able to play this stuff. I didn't just want to do it okay; I wanted to do it well."

Adopting a rather unusual approach, Ghosh threw himself into learning the intricacies of classical Indian tradition: "Just as when I was learning jazz, transcribing [saxophonist, John] Coltrane solos, [pianist] Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
solos and [saxophonist] Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
solos, I started to do a similar thing with South Asian music—listening to the records and transcribing the music. That's a real jazz culture approach to a South Asian style. You don't learn South Asian music like that. You normally learn from a guru for years. It started to influence my composition and that's where Northern Namaste came from."


Ghosh's first album was an intoxicating brew of Indo-jazz filtered through the rock, punk and dance cultures that the clarinetist had absorbed growing up. Dholak, bayan drums and tabla mingled with a jazz set-up of drum, bass, piano and saxophone. There was sitar too, played by Jonathon Mayer, son of the progenitor of Indo-jazz in the UK, composer/violinist John Mayer
John Mayer
b.1977
guitar
. Mayer had come to London in the early 1950s and besides playing with the London & Royal Philharmonic Orchestras he also formed the group Indo-Jazz Fusions with alto saxophonist Joe Harriott
Joe Harriott
Joe Harriott
1928 - 1973
saxophone
, recording the groundbreaking album Indo-Jazz Suite (Atlantic, 1966).

"That was the first Indo-jazz that I heard and I heard it at a good, formative stage," says Ghosh. My Mum had the LP, actually. I did enjoy that record. What I loved about it was the wonkiness of it. They were just trying things out. It was so 1960s; they had a harpsichord in it," Ghosh says laughing. "I liked where it was coming from compositionally. The compositions and improvisations were really strong. But more so than the South Asian element I loved the Joe Harriot side of things. Sometimes you can feel that they were sticking things together but the ethos behind it was real and it wasn't about fusion."

The fusion in jazz-fusion or Indo-Jazz fusion—terms that are sometimes used to describe Ghosh's own music—doesn't sit too comfortably with Ghosh: "I see fusion as taking two or more styles and sticking them together and what I do isn't about that. What I'm about is jazz," he affirms. "It's just that I'm using another language to the blues, or show tunes or indeed avant-garde experimental music. But the culture that I'm coming from, in terms of how the music is structured, who plays it and where we play it, and in some ways who it's for—but not necessarily—is jazz.

"I'm doing something no different to what [saxophonist Jan] Garbarek does, or did, in terms of use of Nordic folk music. I'm doing something no different to Cannonball Adderley with his gospel roots soul. My point is that I'm just using my own musical language to play jazz. That's why it's not fusion, at least as I see it."

Over the past half dozen years Ghosh has tended to work with a core group of musicians but he is clearly open to new collaborations as his involvement with the Arkestra Makara demonstrated. The Arkestra Makara was a pan-Asian ensemble that Ghosh and Chrys Chijiutomi were asked to put together for the Asian Music Stage as part of the 2012 London Cultural Olympiada, and part of a wider festival called the BT River of Music.

The musicians eventually brought together hailed from Sri Lanka, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, the Maldives and South Korea. In addition, Ghosh recruited free-spirited percussionist Susie Ibrarra from the United States: "That was an amazing experience," enthuses Ghosh of the one-off concert. "Our ethos was that percussion and strings were very important; the combination of harps and lutes that you've got across South East Asia and the range of percussion instruments are extremely inspiring to work with."

Ghosh was musical director of the Arkestra Makara and enjoyed the luxury of several days' rehearsal before the show: "Each of the musicians brought a piece of music of their own or of their folk style and the rest of the ensemble learnt it. We had my house band and my crew—bass, drums, vibraphone and percussion. We also worked with some young musicians from Morpeth School Music Department in East London, which was a great element.

"The colors that we were able to achieve texturally were absolutely brilliant," says Ghosh. "The combination of tuned percussion, gongs, strings plucked and bowed, with vibraphone, bass, drums and horns produced a really fine, amazing sound. That's why we called it Arkestra, because it really tapped into everything you hear in [pianist/bandleader] Sun Ra
Sun Ra
Sun Ra
1914 - 1993
keyboard
—or the things that you don't necessarily hear but that are almost implied."

Ghosh speaks with notable enthusiasm about the Arkestra Makara and the exotic array of instruments, some of which, he admits, he had never heard of before. "We really did something special," says Ghosh. "The Arkestra Makara is really kind of special. You can hear pan-African or pan-European ensembles but pan-Asian seems to be less common and I'd love to be able to do that more often. One day I'd really like to record it, but it's got to be all those elements, all those people. Collaboration is a great thing. It's very inspiring."


Another collaboration that threw Ghosh into new territory was the score he wrote in March 2010 for Lette Reiniger's 1926 feature-length animation "The Adventures of Prince Achmed." This bringing together of live performance and cinema premiered at the Albany, London and has since been performed in Manchester and in 2012 in Casablanca, Morocco with Berber, jazz and classical musicians.

In many ways, Ghosh's early professional grounding in the theatre served him well for this project, but likewise insists Ghosh, the experience of composing for theatrical/cinematic events such as "The Adventures of Prince Ahmed" has had an important effect on his method of composing for and performing with his touring group.

"The compositions I do for theatre, the musicians that I find myself working with and the musical ideas I have to express, all those things find their way into the songs that I'm writing, the instrumentation and my performance style. They inform each other," Ghosh explains.

"My improvisation has started to inform how I'm composing in the theatre. More often than not now I'm composing at the piano. I watch what's going on, the movements and the lighting, and I listen to the text and I improvise to it. At some point I'll record it with different instruments and that's started to influence how we're playing live. Anything which can take you beyond the notes, for me at least," says Ghosh "is to be welcomed."

Ghosh was appointed Associate Artist at the Albany Theatre in 2010 and a year later was made Artist-In-Residence for the Southbank's Alchemy Festival. He's composed music for over half a dozen theatre projects as well as composing scores for radio, film and television. With appearances at the London Jazz Festival and the aforementioned special commission for the London Cultural Olympiada with Arkestra Makara, Ghosh has clearly achieved a tremendous amount in a short time. This British Asian jazz clarinetist, who channels rock, punk and dance music as much as South Asian influences into his music, seems to be an important figure of the jazz mainstream in the UK.

Ghosh, however, is not entirely sure: "I'm getting some mainstream attention, in terms of who's interested in programming us, writing about us or playing us on the radio. I can't say I'm not mainstream in that sense. I'm glad about that I have to admit. I do feel that there's another side that keeps us away from the mainstream. My rock 'n' roll and pop background separates me from a more traditional jazz-orientated head space. I'm naturally going to be part of an alternative scene, one that's more aligned to the punkier, rockier side of jazz."

In a sense, Ghosh's music falls between two stools and it's not something that has escaped his notice: "The music I make with the South Asian sound also separates me from the main stream to a certain extent. There are places I haven't been programmed at and wouldn't be programmed at because I'm not necessarily thought of as a jazz artist but as a World Music artist. On the flip side there are World Music and South Asian music scenes that I'm also not necessarily part of because I'm thought of as a jazz act. I've made my own bed and I'm lying in it."

In the main, Ghosh remains upbeat about his music's ability to appeal to a broad demographic, regardless of the labels that people wish to stick on it: "I think there are a lot of people at jazz festivals who have grown up listening to Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stone etc. as well as jazz music. I think we've got a sound that appeals to those people who appreciate different genres and that's because that's what I'm trying to express," says Ghosh.

As for the current state of jazz itself, Ghosh definitely sees the cup half full: "I really do feel that jazz is on the up in general because it's reaching more people and a younger audience. It's not alienating audiences, I don't think, in a way that it might have done previously. It's got the historical side, it's got the experimental side, it's got the trad side, it's got the futuristic electronic side, it's got a side bringing in more World Music or song style, and so on. It's diversifying and it's bringing more people in."


These days Ghosh is busier than ever, and seemingly casting his creative net wider still. There's a new piece called "A Handful of Dust—a multi-media reimaging of T.S Elliott's "The Wasteland" featuring the bowed Indian instrument sarangi, an electronic artist, a contemporary dancer and a poet: "It taps a little into my theatre side," explains Ghosh, "but I want it to be stark and brutal sounding in keeping with my impressions of what that poem is about. I don't want it be in any way, shape or form elitist. I want it to appeal to 13-year olds and 83 year-olds. It'll be a real piece of performance art."

As Associate Artist of the Spitalfields Music for the 2013/14 season, Ghosh has a couple more irons in the fire. There's a new commission for a large ensemble suite in 2014 that celebrates immigration over the centuries into the Spitafields area of East London, from the Huguenots and the Jewish to the Irish, South Asians, Eastern European and beyond.

Then there's the Winter Rasa, a work that will explore the pagan and folk origins of music from Eastern Europe, Andalucía Jerusalem and North African. The music is for choir, vocalist and six-piece band and will be premiered in Shoreditch Church in the second week of December. These two projects are ambitious in scope but Ghosh is undaunted by the task ahead: "The South Asian head space helps," declares Ghosh, "because I'm used to bringing together different styles and trying to make them work.

"It's busy," Ghosh admits, "but there are different things keeping me challenged and pushing me to write new stuff. It's a time when new ideas are coming. Hopefully some of the things that develop will find their way onto future albums. That's what has happened so far."

Despite the commissions and the multi-media projects, Ghosh hasn't lost sight of his musical roots: "Ultimately, I'm still a punk and a raver," says Ghosh, "so whatever ensemble I lead, whether it's a group of young people who have never played instruments before or the Beating Wing Orchestra, which is an orchestra I direct of refugees or people who've got asylum from all over the world based in Manchester, there's an ethos that we're not going to make pretty music necessarily. We're going to be passionate in terms of how we play. Even if it is gentle and pretty I want there to be intensity.

Passion and intensity are two words that pretty much sum up Ghosh's approach to music, whatever he's involved in. Whether playing for animated film or Indian dancers or whether playing with his jazz ensemble, a pan-Asian orchestra or refugee musicians, Ghosh's passion and intensity are the common denominators. There's also a tremendous openness in Ghosh towards other musicians, regardless of their origin: "There are brilliant musicians from all walks of life and all places," recognizes Ghosh, "and to have the opportunity to work with them wherever possible is great. It's truly inspiring."

Photo Credits
Page 1, 3: Andrea Artz
Page 2: Mike Stemberg
Page 4: Peter Fay
Page 5: Taran Wilkhu Photography
Page 6: Tom Mallion
Page 7: Courtesy of Camoci Records


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