Prasanna's Carnatic Convergence Concept Produces Potent Panethnic Potion
AAJ: How heavily have you studied applications of exotic vocabularies, such as so-called exotic scales and alternate tunings,in your music?
P: I personally feel that 'exotic', is in several ways, a Euro or American-centric term. To me, 'Jazz' or Classical music is as exotic or unexotic as Carnatic music or Zulu music or anything else, depending on which side of the street you're on. To me, Carnatic music, Classical music and Jazz are like the primordial Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva triangle in terms of architectural design, and so many kinds of great music, from many cultures around the world, constantly converge and diverge into and out of this, and the equilibrium itself is in a constant state of flux. So, I try my best to absorb the macros or the spirit of the music, as well as the micros, the scales, rhythms and other structural components, of all good music that I come across.
AAJ: What were the earliest recording projects you did?
P: My earliest recordings were my traditional solo Carnatic albums - the first called Guitar Goes Classical was recorded in 1993. In fact, 1993 was the year when four different Carnatic albums of mine were released in India. Other early recording projects were session work on movie soundtracks with the well-known Indian film composer A.R.Rahman.
AAJ: Tell us about your Peaceful cd and what circumstances came together to facilitate the writing and recording of your fist foray into the jazz world.
P: My first real 'solo record' outside of traditional Carnatic music was Peaceful in 2001. I wouldn't call it a jazz record, although there are a couple of solo jazz guitar pieces in it. In fact, looking back, I am unable to put a finger on what this record is all about since its very diverse. The only thing I know is that I had great fun doing this.
AAJ: How much of the record is composed and how much improvised, other than the obvious parts? By this I mean, do any of the tunes come out of jams? Or are they all written out?
P: Some of the tracks on the record are solo guitar improvised spontaneously with no written sketches at all. There are three carnatic compositions - one, I rearranged incorporating elements of Calypso/Salsa and the other in a jazz/rock vein and one played in a pure traditional form, unaccompanied. The title track is the only elaborate composition of mine in this record, which is fully arranged and produced. There is one song called 'The Nightsky', sung in English, that I wrote and sang. The rest of the record is unaccompanied solo guitar.
AAJ: Tell us about some of the musicians you used for those sessions.
P: I had some of my friends in India, like bassist Keith Peters, mridangam player J. Vaidhyanathan and ghatam player Karthick record with me on some tracks. I played all guitars, keyboards, and did the synth and drum programming on some tracks. I also sang on one tune.
AAJ: Please tell us what you hoped to get across with your debut.
P: To communicate what I'd call my musical present, and make a personal statement in some way, as a human being, artist, guitarist and composer.
AAJ: How was that first project done? By this I mean, was it independently produced and financed? Was it a studio or home project?
P: Yes. I put it out on my own label and financed it myself. I used a recording studio.
AAJ: Please tell us your take on your work on the Aka Moon Guitars project and the whole Aka Moon experience?
P: Playing with Aka Moon is both a joy and a great learning experience. Aka Moon's music is yet more proof of what I have always been saying and doing in my music - Carnatic music is a treasure house for those who seek its wealth.
AAJ: Who are these guys?
P: Aka Moon is basically a trio with Fabrizio Cassol on alto sax, who is also the composer, Michel Hatzigeorgiu on electric bass and Stephane Galland on drums. They work with a lot of other musicians from all over the world and bring them into their Aka Moon family, so to speak.
AAJ: Why do you think so few people know about them?
P: It is actually not fully true. From what I have seen, Aka Moon is quite big in Belgium and is also quite well known in other western European countries.
AAJ: How did they find out about you?
P: The Carnatic connection, I guess. But when I first met Fabrizio, we hit home at many levels since we were taking about Webern and Carnatic rhythms and Coltrane and I could see a personal synergy developing.
AAJ: Tell us about Fabrizio Cassol's special compositional methodologies and how you fit into that process. Also tell us about what you see are some of the commonalities between Aka Moon's compositional process and Carnatic music.
P: Fabrizio's larger compositional design is certainly coming out of Carnatic music. But the interlocking and vertical build-up of the parts is quite African, the harmonic language/ improvisational style is clearly Jazz, but the architecture to me, is also very Classically oriented. Counterpoint and orchestration are very central to Fabrizio's approach. All these things that I said about Fabrizio's style are part of my approach to composition too, so I can relate to his compositions at many levels and understand and approach it from different resource points.
Fabrizio also takes melodic design elements from Carnatic ragas, though in a less rigorous way than in the rhythmic treatment. The idea of using long cycles to convey the full phrasing potential of a melody is very clearly coming from carnatic music. Time cycles of Carnatic compositions, for example could be as long as 64/4. Rhythmic subdivisions like 5 over 4, or 3 over 5, in 4 speeds over an 18 beat cycle played at a slow tempo, like a quarter note = 40 are not rare at all in Carnatic music. Aka Moon uses many of these concepts in their music. Aka Moon's music gives me a vehicle to bring in other extremely sophisticated concepts of Carnatic music like the concepts of 'Sruti Bedham' (tonic shift or ragas) and 'Graha Bedham' (time shifts) into its fold and they are very appreciative when I do this.