New Universe Music Festival: Day 1, November 20, 2010

John Kelman By

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Ranjit Barot

Drummer Ranjit Barot first showed up on the larger fusion radar with his work on John McLaughlin's Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008), where the guitar icon reversed his usual exploration of east-meets-west from the stronger Indo-centricity of his Shakti and Remember Shakti groups—lovingly documented on the The Way of Beauty (Universal France, 206) DVD—to a harder-edged electric fusion record where he recruited a group of Indian musicians to play music more western in complexion. But while the drummer has spent the majority of his life as a working musician and composer of film scores in his native country, Bada Boom (Abstract Logix, 2010) is his first as a leader.

Ranjit Barot

And what a debut. Along with a host of fusion greats, and fellow Abstract Logix label mates including McLaughlin, Krantz and Garrison, the drummer recruited a number of outstanding Indian players, and two British musicians who come as something more of a surprise—saxophonist Tim Garland and pianist Gwilym Simcock. But listening to Garland's Dave Liebman-esque soprano solo, following electric mandolinist U. Rajesh' equally searing solo on the album's "T=0," it becomes clear just how right Barot's choices were as he gradually built his album from the ground up.

Of course, it wasn't possible to bring the large cast of Bada Boom to Raleigh; instead, Barot recruited fellow band mates from Human Element along with bringing the remarkable violinist Bala Bhaskar from India, to retain the album's Indo-centricity, even as Kinsey, Garrison and Tuncboyaciyan proved themselves absolutely capable of examining Barot's unique nexus of east and west.

Bala Bhaskar

Barot opened his show with two intimate duos featuring Bhaskar, but more than simply drum/violin duets (and, with players like this, that would have been enough), the drummer used programmed tracks to lend the pieces predefined shape, even as Bhaskar clearly warmed up during the set, moving from long, serpentine lines to light speed phrases with bowing so fast that, as his right hand became a blur, as the audience began to realize what they were seeing, responding with loud hoots, hollers and applause. Clearly, Bhaskar is another player deserving broader recognition—based on this performance alone, perhaps the most important Indian violinist since L Shankar—and, perhaps, an album on Abstract Logix wouldn't be untoward; but, at the very least, hopefully Barot will continue to work with him, and recruit him for his follow-up to Bada Boom.

In addition to being a powerhouse drummer, Barot is also a fine singer, and with another vocalist in the group (Tuncboyaciyan), there was even more opportunity to expand on some of Bada Boom's vocal tracks. Barot writes episodic pieces that travel broad terrains and, with only a relatively short rehearsal the day before—when, as Kinsey, Garrison and Tuncboyaciyan were challenged to learn his music—equal demands were placed on the drummer to pick up the Human Element repertoire. While parts of Barot's performance were redolent of a group winding its way through a series of difficult charts and performing them live for the first time, there was an inherent chemistry between Kinsey, Garrison and Tuncboyaciyan, as well as a clear and instantaneous connection between Barot and the Armenian percussionist/singer. Tuncboyaciyan's past work with artists including Oregon, keyboard legend Joe Zawinul and bassist Marc Johnson has always suggested a near-Puckish element of mischief; seen live, it became a defining characteristic.

From left: Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Ranit Barot, Matthew Garrison, Scott Kinsey

In the same way that Machacek has channeled his clear love of Allan Holdsworth into his own unmistakable voice, so, too has Kinsey transcended any suggestions of imitation, to make his extension and extrapolation of the late Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul's concepts into something more personal and instantly recognizable. Like Zawinul, Kinsey used a vocoder to add, at times, a third voice to the group, though it was more in the sense of creating additional and often contrapuntal lines, rather than harmony or unison lines with either Barot or Tuncboyaciyan, and his astute ability to look for nooks and crannies in which to position well-conceived voicings or floating synth lines, brought a different perspective to Barot's music—as did Garrison's ability to combine punchy, deep in the gut supporting lines with upper register fights of remarkable fancy.

There was a lot of virtuosity going throughout Barot's performance, but never in excess and never doing anything but serving the music. When Krantz joined the group for an exhilarating version of Bada Boom's closer, "Origin," he kicked the set into high gear, where it stayed until the last notes faded to silence.

The drummer's set was a first, loud shot across the bow, making clear that Barot—a family man who shaped his career to put family first and now, with his daughter entering university in the United States, has the freedom to tour more to push his international career to the next level—is a drummer, writer and band leader poised for broader recognition.



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