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Crosscurrents Trio: East meets West

Crosscurrents Trio: East meets West
Emmanuel Di Tommaso By

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This music represents the coming together of different points of view of diversity and the opportunity to create a meeting point for those differences. It is the perfect situation to represent what I hope for the evolution of the people. This is the good hope —Dave Holland
The Crosscurrents Trio is comprised of three master improvisers: Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Chris Potter. Emanating from a multicultral septet project, which was the brainchild of Zakir Hussain, the trio developed out of the desire to explore the cultural and musical connections between the East and the West. From this perspective, music is not only a form of self-expression but rather a way of understanding reality through the deepening of human relations based on mutual respect and dialogue.

The first album of the Crosscurrents Trio, Good Hope (Edition Records, 2019), is a brilliant and cohesive work that aims to inspire new generations to develop a deeper sense of humanity by celebrating cultural diversity.

All About Jazz: The Crosscurrents Trio is a "supergroup" but is very different from other supergroups, which are often little more than an assemblage of big names that play high powered solos without much group chemistry. How did you manage to develop a group identity which is greater than the sum of your individualities?

Zakir Hussain: In our trio it is as if we were playing only one instrument and the music that comes out of it is the fusion of three different thoughts into a single idea. This is only possible if the musicians that play together are able to establish a human relationship between them. When that happens you are able to interact. You can converse and understand each other. So it is possible for us to be able to play without any ego issues. It is always just the three of us making music together. We are all leading at some time. Dave Holland is the most famous musician in our group, but he is very kind, and he allows me and Chris to be part of this whole process as equal members. That makes it very easy for us to create and perform extraordinary music.

Dave Holland: I never used the term "supergroup" because when I'm involved in a project, it is about the music and the relationship between the musicians. The Crosscurrents Trio is composed of great musicians that have a strong individual character to their playing but what is very important to all of us is how this group brings our ideas together and creates a unified creative statement. We have points of commonality and points where we can learn from each other and grow through this process.

AAJ: Earlier on you played together in an expanded format as Crosscurrents (with, among others, guitarist Sanjay Divecha, pianist Louis Banks, drummer Gino Banks, and the vocalist Shankar Mahadevan), what led you to settle for a trio format?

DH: We enjoyed the Crosscurrents very much, and we have done two tours with it already. During the concerts with the larger group, we sometimes did smaller combinations. One of these combinations was this trio with Chris, Zakir and me. We enjoyed it very much and after doing it a few times, we thought that it would be really nice to just have something with the three of us: a new project, which was not necessarily in contradiction with the larger group but offered us a way to explore the musical relationship between the three of us in greater depth. We went on tour last summer as a trio, and it became apparent to us that we should make a record. Three weeks after that tour we went into the studio and recorded Good Hope.

AAJ: With Good Hope, you are delivering a message in favour of disregarding cultural borders. Was the idea of creating "music without borders" a motivating factor behind the trio, or is it rather the natural consequence of three open-minded musicians? Do you think that music can still influence society and generate reflection in an era dominated by instinct over rationality and by triviality?

Chris Potter: Yes, I think that music can definitely influence reality and make the world a better place to live in. Can you imagine the opposite scenario? I mean, a world in which there are no artists that can deliver positive messages to the society? I think it would be a terrible scenario. In the Crosscurrents Trio, we come from different cultures, but we are very open-minded personalities and the dialogue between us is very intense, we constantly ask each other questions, and not just about music. We discuss our roots, traditions and cultures. I think that the idea of creating "music without borders" for us was a very natural consequence of our way of thinking and working together.

ZH: I do not know if musicians can change what is going on in the world but it is possible for them to deliver a message that is the voice of many others. It is possible for musicians to send that message out. I think it is interesting that Chris and Dave and myself come from backgrounds which are so different and yet we have one thing in common and that is music. So when people see us interacting together they see that there are no borders among us, despite the fact that I was born Muslim in India, Dave Holland is from England while Chris Potter comes from an Eastern European and American lineage. We can play music as a common language between us and transfer to our fans the message that it is possible to not have boundaries and live in friendship, love and harmony.

DH: It depends on the music, of course. What I feel about improvised music is that because the music is being created in the moment for the best results, you have to have a selfless approach to the music and be as interested in what the group and the other musicians do as you are in what you are doing. The focus is on the dialogue between us. I think it is a question of humanity. It is a part of whom we are as human beings. We are a family. It may not be obvious to politicians but we are one world, and we are all brothers and sisters in this world. And for me, this music represents the coming together of different points of view and the opportunity to create a meeting point for those differences. It is the perfect situation to represent what I hope for the evolution of the people. This is what the "Good Hope" that gives the title to our album is all about. In international relations, borders are the result of agreements. They are manufactured. In nature there are no borders. If we decide that there is no border, then there is no border. It is a decision. In a creative situation, what we are looking for is a unified creative effort on the part of the whole group.

AAJ: What are the challenges and the rewards in creating a bridge between Indian musical traditions and jazz? How did you have to adjust your approaches when you entered this trio?

ZH: When we play music together, we leave behind the traditions we come from. Our traditions are always with us and if we want them, we can take them out, but we have to strive to find a common language. So it is not about music nor the traditions that are around you. It is about the mind of the persons you are working with. If that mind is open, if the mind allows for things to happen, then we can make music together and it can be special and positive. You have to come with an open mindset.

DH: Indian and jazz music are two important improvising traditions, they share many things, in particular the fact that they are very rhythmic. Their approaches are somewhat different, and the training is different, but as these two forms have evolved they have come closer. What I find most stimulating about our trio is that the crosscurrents between our respective backgrounds are helping us to grow as musicians and learn from each other. Zakir brings influences from his Indian classical background and from having played with musicians coming from Cuba, Africa and all over the world. He brings these influences as do Chris and I. I have done projects with flamenco and Arabic musicians. This is all part of what stimulates us as musicians, and we bring this to whichever project we do.

AAJ: Mr. Hussain, you have played with the who's who in jazz from Charles Lloyd to Joe Henderson and John McLaughlin... what is that first attracted you to jazz, and what is the standing of jazz in India?

ZH: As Dave already said, Indian and jazz music have one thing in common, which is improvising. So it is natural for us to think that jazz and Indian music must be cousins. In my opinion, these two forms of music can work together and have an intimate conversation. In our trio we can be spontaneous and improvise together with any idea. There are no hesitations in our interaction. And that is simply because I am a musician from India, and they are playing jazz music, and we have grown up learning to improvise. So, right there, we have a common bridge between us.

Jazz in India is very popular now but we also have Indian artists who have been playing jazz for more than five decades. There are so many great Indian jazz players, for instance Sheldon D'Silva and Louis and Gino Banks. There is a bunch of artists of all variety. They are all playing jazz, and they are building these different drums, guitars, piano, bass, voice, everything. They are also educating many young Indian kids and young musicians.

AAJ: You have released the album for Edition Records, which in just a few years has established itself as a reference label. Do you think it has to do with the fact that it is run by a musician? Why did you choose to release the album with them?

CP: This is a phase of great changes in the music industry. As a result, there are a lot of musicians who have started producing music and founding record labels over the last years, like me and Dave Stapleton, the founder of Edition Records. This is certainly an opportunity in terms of establishing a good connection between the record label and the musicians. But there are other factors that must be considered. In my opinion, the most important factor is the increasing involvement of the younger generations in this sector, as they are bringing a new approach focused on the importance of communication and the use of new technologies and social media.

DH: I think that Dave Stapleton is very sensitive to music and understands it. But I also think that not all musicians would be good at running record labels. We live at a time when things are changing and the old style record company is having a very difficult time adjusting to the new reality. I see this as a parallel moment to what we had in the 1970s when ECM Records was established. ECM came in to present music in a different way from the major labels. Dave Stapleton has understood this change. There are many other musicians who are now producing their own recordings. I have my own label and release my own albums. In Dave's case, he has taken the production that we have done and released it. We share the profits from it, and we keep the ownership of the recording, which is a big issue for me. The reason why I started my own label is that I did not want to make recordings and then have them owned by a record company. I think the musician has a right to own the product of his own work. Dave respects that, and he can see a way to financially do a very good job and share the costs with the musicians: we take care of the production costs, and he takes care of the other things, and then we share the profits. I think this is a model that might end up being a new model for other things but certainly what Dave is doing is a very important step.

ZH: It is very important that record companies understand musicians and can give enough respect to them and their music. In our case, being Edition Records owned by a musician who is also a great friend of Dave Holland, it becomes much easier for us to work with them. Our music is not pop music. We are not going to sell ten million copies but, still, there are many people that want to listen to us: the record company should make it possible for this music to be available to our fans. I also have a record company myself: it is called Moment Records and it interacts with Edition Records and other record companies from all over the world.

Photo credit: Paul Joseph.
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