Arun Ghosh: A Very British-Asian Jazz Head-Space
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 soundswhich I could never have conceivedthat 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 felt that Bill Evans 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 Zoethe 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 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."