Leave the Door Open is more than evocative and expertly played music: It heralds the emerging age of global world jazz and the attendant possibilities with which it comes.
Jazz and blues guitarist Joel Harrison (from Washington, DC) and sarode player Anupam Shobhakar (from Kolkata, India) first met to work on Harrison's 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship for composing a piece for jazz quintet, classical percussion and sarode. "I have had a lifelong interest in sarode but working with Anupam allowed me to grow exponentially in my understanding of his tradition," Harrison recalls.
That first meeting has since blossomed into Multiplicity, which is what Harrison and Shobhakar call the visionary ensemble that they lead together. "We used that word because it represents our multiplicity of approaches," Harrison says. "Our collaboration is unique because of the many diverse cross-currents involved. Hopefully, this richness of background and materials evolves into a unity of purpose." Leave the Door Open is their collective debut.
The track "Multiplicity" features wordless, chanted vocals (throat singing) from Chandrashekar Vase in freeform dialogue with Harrison's guitar, Shobhankar's sarode, Dan Weiss' tabla and Gary Versace's piano, all blending together to synthesize traditional Indian music with other instrumental music including jazz, especially its bombastic yet ethereal climax. This sprawling epic (nearly twelve minutes) blows up "east meets west" fusion into music that feels genuinely new.
Their joint cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," through which Harrison and Shobhankar explore "east meets west" fusion from the exact opposite direction, is no less brilliant. Harrison's guitar caresses this blues classic into a haunting acoustic meditation that would sound equally at home in an Arabian desert or the Mississippi delta, and when Shobhankar's sarode picks up the second verse, the sonic timbre changes but the blues feeling does not. The leaders' joint composition "Devil Mountain Blues" serves up the flipside to "Spoonful": A tandem guitar/sarode blues that first straddles but ultimately washes away regional, musical and cultural boundaries.
David Binney's alto saxophone raises the jazz quotient in the serpentine "Madhuvanti," cutting hard and sharp like Art Pepper working out demons, and rises as softly as a morning sunrise to help open the beautiful and delicate opener, "The Translator."
"Working on this project allowed me to learn in much deeper ways what jazz music is, and how it connects to who I am," Shobhakar says. "I am truly thrilled to have learned so much about how to work with a jazz rhythm section. Indian improvisation and jazz improvisation are very different in a lot of ways, and developing a rapport with Joel and his peers was at the heart of this project."
"As principles of Indian music slowly work their way into the jazz lexicon, alliances such as ours are becoming less rare. It's a fascinating journey to be taking part in," says Harrison.
The Translator; Leave the Door Open; Madhuvanti; Multiplicity; Spoonful; Kemne Avul; Turning World; Devil Mountain Blues; Deep River.
Joel Harrison: electric, National steel, acoustic and baritone guitars; Anupam Shobhakar: sarode; Gary Versace: piano, Hammond B-3organ, accordion; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic and electric bass; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla; David Binney: alto saxophone (1, 3); Todd Isler: percussion (6, 8); Bonnie Chakraborty: voice (6); Chandrashekar Vase: voice (4).
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