Dusty streets. Delicate whispers of silk against skin. Caravans slowly crossing the desert sands. The opening bars of the Sunny Jain Collective's debut disc As Is
conjure mysterious, exotic visions. But soon the melody of the traditional Indian song "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram" gets whisked away into lands pioneered by the giants of American jazz.
Composed of Jain on drums, Steve Welsh on tenor saxophone and effects, Rez Abbasi on guitar and sitar, and Gary Wang on acoustic bass, the Collective honors Jain's Indian heritage while expanding the breadth of jazz. Using modern effects, the characteristically Indian sitar, and hints of traditional ragas, the group fuses the future to the past.
Much of the album layers texturous beats beneath stately solos. As the second track "Horizontal Pathway" comes to an end, Jain's steady drums and Abbasi's three chord guitar progression clench to counter Welsh's wiry, reverberating, metallic effects. The resulting soundscape transcends the traditional quintet format and ventures into modern techno pop.
Most of America grew accustomed to the sound of the sitar from George Harrison's use of the instrument in the late ‘60s on songs like "Norwegian Wood". Abbasi's sitar playing is not as obvious. He makes use of the instrument's subtler charms. Instead of relying on drawn out, bent notes, Abbasi creates clear, fluid solos reminiscent of some of Pat Metheny's midi sitar sounds. The guitarist complements the group quite well. On "Mango Festival" he sneaks in with clever, glistening notes that flow into a dream-like solo. The guitar drifts between Welsh's Indian melody, and Jain's pared-down, tabla inspired drum beat.
The group plays a futuristic adaptation of the Wayne Shorter tune "Masqualero." A drum and bass beat that ventures into hip-hop holds the wayward sound together to create a lush framework around the liquidy, psychedelic sitar and eerie, singing effects.
The closing track, "Aap Jaisa Koi," a disco number from the 1981 film Qurbani, provides a taste of modern Indian culture. Jain and Wang's vigorous rhythm, together with Abbasi and Welsh's spirited melody, carry us off into a land of resplendent spires and humbling Himalayas.
Personnel: Sunny Jain: drums;
Rez Abbasi: guitar/sitar guitar;
Gary Wang: acoustic bass;
Steve Welsh: tenor saxophone/effects