Cultural Fusion: KCP 5, Billy Fox, Joachim Kuhn

Ivana Ng By

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As composer/multi-instrumentalist Kali Z. Fasteau wrote in last months's issue of All About Jazz / New York, jazz can "embrace aspects of music from anywhere and everywhere, as can no other music on the planet, in a profound and high-quality synthesis."

These three albums combine jazz with the musical traditions, musicians and instruments of East India, Japan and Morocco. In a society that is fascinated with multi-culturalism, the fusion of jazz and world music is automatically exotic and intriguing. However, these discs are more profound and deliberate in their execution than the word exotic immediately suggests...

Many Ways
Challenge Records International

The members of KCP 5 include two American musicians—alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano and keyboardist Mike Herting—who have studied and toured with the other three KCP 5 members, from Bangalore, India, for over 20 years. As a result, Many Ways beautifully unites Mariano's bebop energy with the carnatic music (Indian classical music) supplied by R.A. Ramamani's undulating vocals and T.A.S. Mani's tranquil rhythm on the mridangam, a South Indian percussion instrument.

In "Arun," Herting's piano melody ranges from a surprising poignancy at the beginning of the tune to a more playful tempo during the rest of the song. And Mariano, who supports Ramamani throughout with his sparse playing, performs a swinging solo that reveals his technical prowess. Also, Ramesh Shotham, who plays an array of Indian percussion instruments on this record, almost overpowers Ramamani's vocals with his engaging beats.

Billy Fox and the Kitsune Ensemble
Kaidan Suite
Gozen Reiji Records

Kaidan Suite, on the other hand, uses no traditional—in this case, Japanese—instruments, even though it is inspired by hyakumonogatari kaidankai, the tradition of telling ghost stories by diminishing candlelight. However, the lack of such instruments doesn't take away from the record at all. Even though the CD is, at its core, a modal jazz record, it still utilizes Japanese musical elements and conveys the kaidan (ghost story), with astonishing clarity and complexity.

Taken together, the 13 songs tell the story of a woman who returns from the grave to haunt her husband, who has murdered her out of ambition and jealousy. Composer Billy Fox somehow manipulates each instrument into sounding like its Japanese counterpart. Flutist John Savage and clarinetist Gary Pickard are excellent improvisers who convey the shadows and darkness of the kaidan effortlessly. From the thoughtful oriental vibe in "Anohito No Teien (The Wife's Garden)" to the menacing free improv in "Anata (Darling)," the message is clear: Kaidan Suite is an unambiguous, multifaceted story in the Japanese tradition.

Joachim Kuhn / Majid Bekkas / Ramon Lopez
ACT Music

Of the three albums discussed here, Kalimba is the most European-sounding—however, that's not saying much when Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez has incorporated non-western instruments like the tabla and the cajon into his drum kit, and when Moroccan instrumentalist and vocalist Majid Bekkas sings evocatively in his native tongue. Bekkas and German pianist Jochim Kuhn co-wrote many of the songs on this sprawling canvas of evocative jazz and North African cadences. In "Sabbatique," Kuhn plays sparsely, but each note is heavy with emotion and he later transfers this same quality to his saxophone voice. Though Kalimba is dominated by Kuhn's contemplative jazz piano, Bekkas's coarse voice is just as engaging, especially in the beautiful African blues tune "Dounia."

These three discs transcend the label "world music" and prove that jazz can indeed embrace traditional music from East India, Japan and Morocco in "a profound and high-quality synthesis."

Tracks and Personnel

Many Ways

Tracks: Many Ways; Lazy Day; Jayam; Arun; Balaji; Varnum; 17th Cross.

Personnel: R.A. Ramamani: vocal; T.A.S. Mani: mridangam; Ramesh Shotham: kanjira, morsing, ghatam, udu; Charlie Mariano: alto saxophone; Mike Herting: keyboard.

Kaidan Suite

Tracks: Anohito No Teien (The Wife's Garden); Ochiba (Fallen Leaves); Kigi No Kage (Silhouette Of Trees); Tarekomeru Annu (Dark Clouds); Reiu (Cold Rain); Michi (The Path); Yabon (Ambition); Koroshi (Murder); Shizumarikaetta Ie (Lonely House); Kui (Regret); Sasayaki (Whisper); Omoigakenai Mono No Kikan (Strange Return); Anata (Darling); Saigo No Honon (The Last Flame).

Personnel: John Savage: flute; Gary Pickard: clarinet, bass clarinet; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Yayoi Ikawa: piano; Tim Collins: vibraphone; Yoshi Waki: bass (tracks 2,3,5,6,8); Yasushi Nakamura: bass (tracks 4,7,9,11-13); Arei Sekiguchi: drums, percussion; Billy Fox: percussion (10).


Tracks: A Live Experience; Hamdouchi; Good Mood; Kalimba Call; Youmala; Rabih's Delight; Dahin; Sabbatique; Dounia; White Widow.

Personnel: Joachim Kuhn: grand piano, alto saxophone; Majid Bekkas: guembri, oud, kalimba, voice; Ramon Lopez: drums.

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