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Indian Jazz: Deepak Ram, Neil Welch and Rudresh Mahanthappa

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Deepak Ram
Steps
Golden Horn Productions
2008


Neil Welch
Narmade
Belle
2008


Rudresh Mahanthappa
Kinsmen
Pi
2008




Jazz and Indian music are appealing bedfellows. As heard on these discs, the sonorities, rhythmic sensibilities and improvisational approaches of the two work together especially well.

Deepak Ram's instrument is the bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) and Steps is a collection of mostly jazz standards plus two originals. It's quite astonishing to hear a bossa intro—from stalwart guitarist Vic Juris—and then a slow and stately "Giant Steps." Ram's solo is introspective and thoughtful, not just an exercise in running the changes. Bassist Tony Marino and drummer/percussionist Jamey Haddad blend their rhythms beautifully with the sounds of the frontline and it's truly edifying to hear these familiar standards ("All Blues," "My Funny Valentine," "Summertime" and more) take on a very different life in their new colors. Ram's flute's silky sound works beautifully on the originals: the haunting and ethereal "Madiba's Dance" and the funkier "Blues for Shyam Babu."

Saxophonist Neil Welch has a somewhat different take on Narmada. He fleshes out his improvisations with a standard rhythm section augmented by tabla (Tor Dietrichson) and sitar (Debi Prasad Chatterjee). The title tune opens with the drone of Chatterjee's sitar followed immediately by a delicate yet impassioned tenor solo. For a true surprise, the next tune, "Paranoid Android," is by Radiohead! Bassist Luke Bergman takes a propulsive solo that leads naturally into the next section with a fuzzy solo by guitarist Cameron Peace and then an intense excursion by Welch. Mention must be made of Brian Kinsella on acoustic and electric pianos and the loops used to great effect by Peace. The set ends with a traditional Indian piece, "Raga Kirwani," the sitar giving way to the soprano sax and Welch demonstrating how the raga form has the same open feel as a jazz solo.

Kinsmen, by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, utilizes Indian ragas, songs and rhythmic cycles to create what feels like a different form. After a more traditional Indian introduction, a band consisting of Kadri Gopalnath (alto), A. Kanyakumari (violin), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Poovalur Sriji (mridangam, a South Indian barrel drum), Carlo de Rosa (bass) and royal hartigan (drums) dig into a bluesy bash with Indian roots, including a section in which sax and violin trade lines that draw from both traditions. There are four alaps, which, typically in North Indian classical music, are opening sections—unmetered, improvised (within the raga) and unaccompanied. Each features a soloist—Abbasi, de Rosa, Golpanath and Kanyakumari—and serves as a brief intro the next tune and a short showcase for each player's prowess. Though there is no real new composition in Indian classical music, Mahanthappa has found that innovation, blending traditions and textures, is possible. Listen to the line, for example, of the closing tune, "Convergence." This is music with many grooves—with and without a solid pulse such as Western jazz listeners know it.


Tracks and Personnel

Steps

Tracks: Giant Steps; Madiba's Dance; Blues for Shyam Babu; Summertime; October; Naima; All Blues; My Funny Valentine.

Personnel: Deepak Ram: bansuri; Vic Juris: guitar; Tony Marino: bass; Jamey Haddad: drums and percussion.

Narmada

Tracks: Madness in Motion; The Search (for Coltrane, Pharoah and Ayler); Narmada; Paranoid Android; Neptune; Darker; Raga Kirwani.

Personnel: Neil Welch: tenor and soprano saxophones; Brian Kinsella: piano and Rhodes; Cameron Peace: guitars, loops; Luke Bergman: bass; Chris Icasiano: drums; Tor Dietrichson: tabla, congas, percussion; Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee: sitar.

Kinsmen

Tracks: Introspection; Ganesha; Rez-Alap; Longing; Snake!; Carlo-Alap; Kalyani; Kadri-Alap; Kanya-Alap; Convergence (Kinsmen).

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Kadri Gopalnath: alto saxophone; A. Kanyakumari: violin; Rez Abbasi: guitar; Poovalur Sriji: mridangam; Carlo de Rosa: bass; royal hartigan: drums.


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