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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions - Asian Airs
Chakkar; Megha; Yaman; Song Before Sunrise (Lalit); Pilu; The Bear; Jhaptal; Mela; Asian Airs
John Mayer (violin): Chris Featonby (double bass): Steve Tromans (piano): Andrew Bratt (drums): James McDowall (flute): Anna Brooks (saxophone): Dave Smith (trumpet): Jonathan Mayer (sitar): Ranjit Singh (tabla): Peter Moore (tambura)
rec. Concert Hall, Nimbus Foundation, 11 May 1996
NIMBUS NI 5499 [57:58]




Back in the 1960s when the first famous Indo-Jazz LP was issued John Mayer joined forces with a stellar gathering of musician. The Jazz players were Joe Harriott, Eddie Blair, Pat Smythe, Rick Laird and Allan Ganley and the Indian musicians were Diwan Motihar (sitar), Chris Taylor (flute), Keshav Sathe (tabla) and Chandrahas Paigankar (tambura). After altoist Harriott’s death in 1973 John Mayer disbanded the group. Back in the 1960s Mayer was still playing violin in the RPO – which is where he recruited Chris Taylor - as well as following an after hours life with Indo-Jazz.  After a very long silence Indo-Jazz reappeared in 1995 with an all-new line up, still led by the Calcutta-born Mayer and the following year it recorded this album for Nimbus. He felt the new band integrated and understood the ragas more than the original line up – of whom it was only pianist Pat Smythe who tried to dig deeper into the musical processes going on.

Mayer took ragas and made harmonic structures out of them and tended to dismiss the idea of counterpoint in his compositions. What the untutored ear hears, for example in the opening piece, Chakkar, is the emergence from the raga of a ‘Blue Note’ front-line ensemble from trumpet and saxophone. In Megha Jonathan Mayer’s sitar is more to the fore whilst James McDowall’s flute is also a strong aural presence; Dave Smith’s trumpet cleaves more to the modal Milesian side of things. Freely swinging Yaman enshrines some complex percussive patterns whilst John Mayer lends his solo violin playing to several tracks – prominently Song Before Sunrise (Lalit) with its classical cadential introduction (Mayer had been a pupil of Mehli Mehta, the violin playing father of Zubin). There’s a pliant and fluent saxophone solo from Anna Brooks on Pilu and an infectious drive is maintained and sustained on The Bear. There is, lest this seems all too earnest, a Scherzo track, Jhaptal, with witty baroque and raga breaks. Without myself getting too frivolous, I should add that my favourite title is Mela, a kind of Indo boogie or indeed a Boogie raga. But the longest track is the last, full of rolling drive and interesting colours and patterns.

There aren’t many smiles in the band photo. Maybe Mayer was a hard taskmaster and they were pretty much his musical grandchildren in any case. And though individually the musicians are very different from the giants of the first Indo-Jazz band, they acquit themselves well, and cohesively well, more to the point. A question of integration and ensemble.


Jonathan Woolf 




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