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Sarathy Korwar & The UPAJ Collective: My East Is Your West

Chris May By

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Indo-jazz fusion has distinguished ancestry in Britain. The music took shape in the mid to late 1960s, when a string of extraordinary albums, each with one foot in Indian classical music and the other in post-bop jazz, were recorded by guitarist Amancio D'Silva and violinist John Mayer. Both featured empathetic jazz musicians (Joe Harriott, Don Rendell, Ian Carr and others) in their bands. A decade later, John McLaughlin and Shakti took up the reins. Between times, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the music fed into the astral jazz being forged in the US by Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, and also into the proto-world jazz of Don Cherry. Back in Britain, Tony Haynes' Grand Union Orchestra began exploring Indo-jazz in 1982 and is still going strong 36 years later. Now a new generation of London-based musicians are stepping forward.

Recorded live in early 2018, My East Is Your West is a follow-up to drummer and percussionist Sarathy Korwar's acclaimed Day To Day (Ninja Tunes, 2016). Both albums are simultaneously part of the Indo-jazz continuum and of the broader cultural reset which has been revitalising London's jazz scene since 2015, and which is still gathering momentum.

When it comes to rhythmic intensity, the UPAJ Collective, the band Korwar leads on My East Is Your West, is in the same league as label stablemate Binker and Moses, the ferocious semi-free group featuring saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd, whose Dem Ones (2015), Journey To The Mountain Of Forever (2017) and Alive In The East? (2018), all on Gearbox, are key manifestos of the new London scene.

In terms of transcultural scope, however, the music on My East Is Your West has more in common with that of London astral-jazz / world-jazz collective Emanative, whose Earth (Jazzman, 2018) is a veritable Silk Road collection of styles and influences in which Indo-jazz is writ large. UPAJ and Emanative are both made up of musicians of South Asian and European heritage and there are several connections between the line-ups. Drummer Nick Woodmansey, leader of Emanative, mixed Day To Day and has mixed and co-produced Korwar's next studio album, due out in spring 2019; Korwar is a member of Emanative; so too is UPAJ's baritone saxophonist and flautist, Tamar Osborn (who completes an impressive hat-trick by being a mainstay of Dele Sosimi 's Afrobeat Orchestra, one of the top three Afrobeat bands in the world).

Compositions by Amancio D'Silva, John McLaughlin, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry are included on My East Is Your West along with others by Ravi Shankar, Joe Henderson and Abdullah Ibrahim. But these are are no mere revivalist trips down memory lane. The pace and surging crescendos of the performance of Sanders and Leon Thomas' "The Creator Has A Master Plan," for instance, together radically transform the composers' original recording. Coltrane's "Journey In Satchidananda," Henderson's "Earth" and D'Silva's "A Street In Bombay" also get a reboot. The body slams the album delivers give astral jazz an exhilarating twist.

UPAJ is a collaborative line-up in which the ensemble is the focus of attention most of the time. But individual musicians also turn in memorable solos. Among those that stick in the mind long after the disc has stopped playing are keyboardist Al Macsween's spin on Abdullah Ibrahim's "Hajj," which recalls McCoy Tyner's rocket-fuelled essays with John Coltrane; sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun's high-voltage take on "Satchidananda;" alto saxophonist Jesse Bannister's call and response with Degun on Ravi Shankar's "Mishrank;" and Tamar Osborn's gritty bottom-end baritone saxophone on Don Cherry's "Utopia And Visions." Korwar and fellow percussionist B C Manjunath mostly kind of "never solo and always solo," as Joe Zawinul said of all the members of early Weather Report.

My East Is Your West, which is released as a double CD and a triple LP, was recorded at one of the crucibles of the new London scene, Hackney's Church of Sound. Audio quality is superb, as we are growing to expect from Gearbox's location recordings—Binker and Moses' Alive In The East? was recorded, stunningly, at another scene hotspot, Total Refreshment Centre (closed by Hackney Council in summer 2018 following licensing-law infractions but hopefully reopening).

An access-all-areas, 360°, deep strata, Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval blinder.

Track Listing: LP 1: Side 1: A Street In Bombay. Side 2: The Creator Has A Master Plan; Mind Ecology. LP 2: Side 1: Malkauns (Part 1); Malkauns (Part 2). Side 2: Journey In Satchidananda; Hajj. LP 3: Side 1: Earth. Side 2: Mishrank; Utopia And Visions.

Personnel: Sarathy Korwar: tabla, drum kit; Domenico Angarano: double bass, electric bass; Aravindhan Baheerathan: bansuri; Giuliano Modarelli: acoustic guitar; Al MacSween: keys: Tamar Osborn: baritone sax, flute; Jasdeep Singh Degun: sitar; John Ball: santoor, tabla; Jesse Bannister: alto sax; Aditya Prakash: vocals; B C Manjunath: mridangam, kanjira.

Title: My East Is Your West | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Gearbox Records


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