Drummer Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana is one of the most consistently rewarding and intriguing groups to grace the roster of Portugal's Clean Feed Records. Formed in 2003, the group has notably featured violin and oud as its instrumental color of choice in staggeringly complex yet hard-swinging compositions. Mominand Taranaare a genre-fogging unit, blending jazz improvisation with forms from South and East Asia and North Africa. However, this mixing of genres is endemic to Momin's working methods and has expanded to his appearances with other ensembles like the rock band Fulton Lights, tenor man Kalaparusha's ensemble The Light and pianist Ursel Schlicht's Ex Tempore.
All About Jazz: You mentioned all this woodshedding and these things you've been keeping under wraps. What have you been up to lately?
Ravish Momin: I've been working, of course, with Tarana and we've been touring a lot, at least for this kind of music: six tours in 2008 to six countries. A lot of it I book myself, which is even more insane; I'm sure you can appreciate that. A lot of guys have managers and agents. So [I've been] touring and doing all this work, and I reached a sort of head where I wanted to go somewhere else with the music and needed something to happen.
I've also been hanging out with my cousin from the band Dalek; he's been turning me on to a lot of new musicexperimental new electronica that I liked a lot. I wanted to put that into in an improvised music setting, and also I wasn't really happy with what I heard in a lot of electronicaa lot of it felt either too mechanical, or not enough improvisation was going on. Stuff that was more openlike Supersilentwas the equivalent of free music with electronics. I thought that there had to be more to electronics and more to jazz than any of what I was hearing. I started shedding on my own; there's a lot of heavy tradition and lineage that has to be learned. I didn't want it to look like, "Oh, he's trying to get on the bandwagon."
I did some tours with it and I was very happy with this new direction. I started working with Skye Steele on violin last year and recently with Greg Heffernan on cello, and I might add Michael Bates on bass. Tarana has become a very open thing, and it's exciting.
AAJ: About two years ago, you'd mentioned expanding the palette in terms of adding more acoustic instruments. Now electronics have entered the fold. Is that as much economickeeping the size of the ensemble downas it is technical?
RM: No, it's certainly not economic and it doesn't replace acoustic instruments. It's funny, I was just putting together a proposal for something with expanded strings and with laptops added. No one has done anything with oud, pipa, cello, violin, drums and laptop. So I think I'm on to something.
I was asking Rachel Cooper (from the Asia Society) to recommend some people who would be interested and who could travelsome people that Butch Morris has used. He had an East meets West project in which I also participated, and there were Chinese musicians who could really play also. More recently, I've rehearsed with [shakuhachi player] Kaoru Watanabe, who could go from playing free jazz to traditional Japanese music. That's certainly not gone from the picture, and my next record will have a more varied feel with different stringed instruments, laptop, and things like that.
AAJ: Tell us about the tours you were undertaking.
RM: It started in April of last year, actually; we got a grant from the Asian Arts Agency of Bristol [England] and from the English Arts Council as well, and we did about six or eight gigs all over England. Then we did Jazz Ao Centro, in PortugalPedro [Costa, of Clean Feed Records] brought us over there. Then we did a Canadian tour where we did the Iron Works in Vancouver and went through Alberta. Finally, we did a Midwest tour in October, and a tour in China that we came back from a couple of weeks ago. We actually made money on all of it, too.
AAJ: How has it been in terms of reception from audiences, especially in places like China?
RM: It's still a closed society but they're opening up and hungry for new things, and they have this burgeoning economy and a lot of kids who are interested in the music. There's a laptop player there who has worked with Mike Patton, for example, and he's up there. He's brought [John] Zorn and Ikue Mori to Hong Kong and stuff like that. He was telling me how valuable this music was over there; going from traditional pop music to abstract electronica is a big leap. Tarana was somewhere in the middle; we were playing the same venues that laptop people were playing and everybody was very open to us everywhere we went. It kind of spoiled us!
AAJ: What about the "jazz" audiences? Have you noticed in the years since you began Tarana any change in how they receive what you're doing?
RM: A lot of our work is in Europe, and they're inherently open; they'll have Fennesz another night. And yet here in the States, it's actually getting worse. There are some new venues opening up in New York doing good things, but a lot of stuff is closed to us. I don't put a lot of energy into playing in New York because it's so much work, whereas in Europe, the audience is already there and excited to see you play. You don't have to hustle so much. It makes you feel that people care about improvised music.
AAJ: From introducing electronics into the ensemble, how has your approach to the kit changed, if at all?
RM: The approach hasn't changed but it has made more demands on my technique. For instance, I'm using loops and I can modify them live as I'm playing (depending on the patches and so forth) and when you're playing along with anything that's preset, you have to have your shit together. As an improviser who's really focused on time, it kicked my ass into getting my time together because if you're off on those loopsand my music is based on non-traditional time signatures anywayit can really throw you. If we're doing a piece in 7/8, 13/8, or 15/4 and I'm not on, it sounds terrible.
AAJ: How's your experience been with the implied time that you're creating on the kit transferred to electronics?
RM: It's another instrument and a valid palette, like adding shakers or something to percussion setups, and I want to go somewhere else with it than what I've heard Satoshi Takeishi or Jim Black do. I'm using a program called Ableton Live which actually lets you do thatprogram beats and random patterns on the fly. It has a velocity function that allows it to mimic a human feel where things don't always sync up. The patterns change and it's very close to how improvisation might sound.
I've added on top of that an additional element, so the whole thing is filtered through a MIDI unit where I have these pads that provide alternate textures and loops. I can trigger those on the fly as I wishanother element of control over the setting that's providedbut it's totally open.