Ranjit Barot: Beautiful Collision
RB: I started the process about a year ago, so they're all fresh songs. Conceptually, what I wanted to do with the rhythmic structures had been running around in my head for a while, but I guess when I sat down to write a year ago, I wrote a bunch of new tunes.
AAJ: Most of the musicians on Bada Boom are well known, and they all play beautifully, though one who stands out is pianist Harmeet Manseta. What can you tell us about him?
RB: He's a young pianist from Bombay. He's just outstanding. He's such a beautiful guy and an extremely talented pianist. He's very knowledgeable, and I couldn't have done the album without him. I don't read and write; all my harmonic and melodic ideas are from the mind, and I externalize it on the piano. The whole depth of harmonic knowledge of Harmeet was an integral bed on which I superimposed my ideas, and we worked very closely together on that. Harmeet is an incredible musician.
AAJ:M Yes, his playing is fantastic throughout the album. Let's hope we hear more of him in the future.
RB: Oh yeah. I will make it a point, man.
AAJ: A relatively new name for many people is guitarist Marc Guillermont. How did you come across him?
RB: It's funny, while other people go and watch TV, I go onto the Internet, and I got so inspired by some of the musicians I see. I was just randomly looking at stuff, and I came across a video of John McLaughlin playing with three other guitarists, one of whom was Marc Guillermont. He wasn't intimidated, and I wanted to know more about him. He's a phenomenal composer and a great guitarist, and we connected on the internet. I just love his playing. He plays with [drummer] Gary Husband and with a drummer living in England called Sebastien Cornelissen.
We Skyped each other and sent the song back and forth, and it was wonderful.
AAJ: It's quite an ambitious album for a debut as leaderyou have strings in there, a horn section and a cast of musicians as big as a Bollywood epic. Did it ever seem a daunting project to you?
RB: To reproduce this live on stage is going to be a trip. Being new, I'm not going to get a million dollars to put together a 15-piece band to go out on the road. There are ways to reproduce it if you have a good quintet, but I don't want to play it like the album. Maybe we'll strip it down to its core and play it differently, sort of unplugged. The album is done. It has a life of its own, and I have no interest in trying to play it exactly like that. This was my real primal scream.
I'd love to have done film scores like this. We could do so much more in Bollywood; we should be making great music and making great films. I was hearing all this and I wanted to put it all on the album. I wanted an orchestra and I wanted the horn section, and I want it to be big and bold and absolutely in your face.
AAJ: You've talked about Harmeet Manseta, but how much of a collaborative effort were the four co-arranged tracks with Manseta, Sanjay Divecha and Tim Garland?
RB: Very closely. I would sketch the melody out, and we would try and harmonize it. In Indian music, a lot of music is played in modes, or what we call a ragaa fixed set of notes in a scale. Now, a lot of musicians don't play chromatic they don't play in between those notes. The modal game is to play those notes and only those notes, so we had to be very careful when we harmonized this stuff, we complemented anything that they would play. If we put a bunch of chord changes in there that they couldn't connect with, then you know, we had to really think, "How do we color this music?" Harmeet was hip to the Indian system; he's a genius.
It was almost like I was almost like I was playing Harmeet. He would spend nights with me listening to chords, and I was saying, "No, that chord is too dark. Let's brighten it." He was extremely accommodating; somebody else might have told me to piss off. He knew what we were chasing. He knew that this was a quest to find the way to tell the story.
AAJ: Tim Garland plays just great on the three tracks. How did you hook up with him?
RB: It's funny, man. As a musician, there are all kinds of things you have to do to pay the bills. I was doing a corporate gig for an airline. They called me up and told me they were adding new routes to London: one to Dubai and one to Hong Kong. They wanted to do a concert with eminent musicians from these three countries. I didn't know anybody in China, and they got somebody for me. I knew somebody in Dubai who was an Arabic blues player, and I asked my friend Peter Lockett, the percussionist, but he said he wasn't free. He told me the guy I should be looking at was Tim Garland.
I got in touch with Tim, and he came down for the corporate show. He flew down, and we connected instantly. Let me tell you, the secret to making a good album is to surround yourself with people who are going to make you look good no matter what you do. Tim is one of those guys, and he is just a monster arranger. He listened to "Dark Matter," and he said, "You should do a big-band arrangement," and he had a horn section. I said, "Here are the files; here are the songs. You do it and send it to me." I know that he sketched a part of it with Harmeet, and Tim just expanded on that.