All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

1

Phil Scarff: Ragas on Saxophone

Geno Thackara By

Sign in to view read count
Plenty of Western players have been inspired by the exotic sounds and qualities of Indian music. It's a much smaller number who've formally studied its classical traditions, however, and fewer still have been successful enough to master the forms and play to the acclaim of Indian audiences. Quick—can you name one off the top of your head apart from John McLaughlin? If not, you're probably still in the majority even among jazz connoisseurs.

If Phil Scarff is a less-known name, it's not because of any lesser commitment to the music. The Boston-based saxophonist is versatile enough to switch among Indian classical ensembles, improvisational jazz combos, the Indo-African fusion collective Natraj and an eclectic duo with pianist Lewis Porter. Ragas on Saxophone is a simple concept that seems obvious—why hasn't it been done more often?—yet, of course, the novelty isn't the point at all. He approaches the music with the utmost discipline and respect.

This live performance at 2015's Hirai Music Festival in Chandrapur was accompanied by tablaist Bhushan Parchure (a student of Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain, which already says good things about him in his own right). The program finds a way to cover a lot of ground through Scarff's own career as well. It's an enticing mix of traditional ragas and his own compositions in the form, also making time for a stirringly lovely devotional piece in the center.

He embodies this melding of traditions right in the extended opener, floating patiently through his own alap (improvised introduction) to the traditional "Raga Puriya Dhanashri." Parchure keeps the twelve-beat rhythm for the piece's main body while Scarff gradually weaves his own spin on it: he subtly adjusts the usual slow opening pattern to better suit his instrument and eventually trails off with some fun leisurely capering by the end. He sticks to soprano sax for the entire performance, which makes a perfect choice for slow silky scales and quick-fluttering lines alike.

The cultural blending continues throughout: the traditional "Raga Yaman" has its first section adapted from the normal sixteen-beat rhythm to a fascinating seven. Scarff's own "Raga Rageshri," meanwhile, coasts in a cycle of ten while his sax swoops with the suave coolness of a jazzy jam session. There's a palpable joy in the playing of both musicians, though the performance's intensity stays at a patient smoldering burn tastefully suitable for the occasion. Even when the lively folk song "Kajri Dhun" brings things to a bright close, Scarff's jaunty lines stay focused and Parchure never loses the pace. It's a performance that shows exquisite craft and still sounds effortless: a happily mesmerizing experience indeed.

Track Listing: Raga Puriya Dhanashri, Alap; Raga Puriya Dhanashri, Vilambit Ektaal; Raga Yaman, Eri Aali Piya Bina, Madhya Rupaktaal; Raga Yaman, Drut Tintaal; Mogara Phulala, Raga Gorakh Kalyan; Raga Rageshri, Alap; Raga Rageshri, Madhya Jhaptaal; Kajri Dhun.

Personnel: Phil Scarff: soprano saxophone; Bhushan Parchure: tabla.

Title: Ragas on Saxophone | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Galloping Goat

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Mønk CD/LP/Track Review
Mønk
by Chris May
Published: September 20, 2018
Read The Music of Gary Lindsay / Are We Still Dreaming CD/LP/Track Review
The Music of Gary Lindsay / Are We Still Dreaming
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 20, 2018
Read Hidden Details CD/LP/Track Review
Hidden Details
by John Kelman
Published: September 20, 2018
Read Selective Coverage CD/LP/Track Review
Selective Coverage
by Jim Olin
Published: September 20, 2018
Read Fat Daddy CD/LP/Track Review
Fat Daddy
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 19, 2018
Read Short Stories CD/LP/Track Review
Short Stories
by Gareth Thompson
Published: September 19, 2018
Read "James Weldon Johnson: God's Trombones" CD/LP/Track Review James Weldon Johnson: God's Trombones
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: June 1, 2018
Read "Zero" CD/LP/Track Review Zero
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 6, 2018
Read "The View from Here" CD/LP/Track Review The View from Here
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: May 12, 2018
Read "Turbamulta" CD/LP/Track Review Turbamulta
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 21, 2018
Read "Double Bass" CD/LP/Track Review Double Bass
by John Eyles
Published: April 7, 2018
Read "Uplift The People" CD/LP/Track Review Uplift The People
by John Sharpe
Published: August 21, 2018