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Pradeep Ratnayake: Old Bed-Fellows, New Challenges

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Pradeep Ratnayake Pradeep Ratnayake
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, CA
July 22, 2006

This was certainly not the first time Indian music and American Jazz have joined forces. The mutual admiration goes back a long way. John Coltrane's interest in Indian music was with the scales and sounds, which he felt elicited special kinds of emotions. John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek and Zakir Hussain's collaboration bore fruit in the form of Making Music (ECM, 1987, a very evocative recording that masterfully integrated the essences of both musical styles.

On this special occasion, Pradeep Ratnayake, an illustrious sitar player from Sri Lanka was joined by Freddie Ravel on piano and Eric Marienthal on alto sax, producing a mélange of jazzy-pop, traditional Indian music and even a little Mozart.

Pradeep kicked off the set with fellow Sri Lankan musicians on tabla, percussion and violin, all seated on the stage and wearing traditional costumes. Later they were joined by Ravel and partners, totaling a staggering eight musicians, including electric guitar and a full drum kit.

The full complement pitched into a funky number by the Beach Boys. Sanguine saxophone, tenacious piano, and rambunctious drums strove to test Walt Disney Concert Hall's acoustic superiority. This was jazz—at least I think it was—the playing was brilliant, but I had never seen jazz musicians looking so clean cut, wearing such wide grins and posturing a little like their rock counterparts. And by the look on the faces of Pradeep and his associates, neither had they. The soft tapping of tabla, and the rattling drone of the sitar didn't suffer so much from the incongruity of it all, so much as you just couldn't hear them.

The evening did have its moments, and Pradeep's sheer skills as a player shone through in spite of the challenge. There was form, color, and—lest we forget what it's supposed to be all about—entertainment!


Photo Credit
Dayan Vitharana


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