- Looking Out, Looking In
- Vandanaa Trayee
- Pailika Market
- You Talk Too Much
Rudresh Mahanthappa - Alto sax
Rez Abassi - Guitars
Dan Weiss - Tabla
Since John Mayer's Indo-Jazz Fusions of the 1960s, there have been several attempts at fusing jazz with Indian music. Many of them have failed because they were an uneasy mixture of musicians experienced in different disciplines. Classical Indian music is a complicated form which takes many years to master, so you can't expect jazz musicians to get the hang of it in five minutes. The same is true in reverse: musicians trained in the Indian tradition may find it hard to adapt themselves to jazz. However, the two styles of music have at least a couple of things in common: the element of improvisation and the importance of rhythm - especially drumming.
So the fusion of jazz and Indian methods may work well if there are musicians who understand both of these two different worlds. Rudresh Mahanthappa, being an American saxophonist of Indian stock, is well-suited to bridging this divide. He is primarily a jazzman but for some years he has performed with the pianist Vijay Iyer (the son of Indian immigrants), and played as a duo with him. He went to India to work with the alto-saxist Kadri Gopalnath and together they developed an effective Indo-jazz fusion.
Returning to New York, Rudresh recorded this new album with guitarist Rez Abassi and tabla player Dan Weiss. The presence of a guitar in an Indo-jazz fusion may seem strange, but Abassi manages to play jazz guitar at the same time as fulfilling the roles normally taken by such Indian instruments as the sitar and tamboura (the latter providing the necessary drone). And Dan Weiss plays the Indian drums - tabla - with authentic virtuosity. The results are stunning - and sometimes puzzling, as you try to work out the beat.
After the meditative opening track (which has the mournful quality
often heard in Carnatic music), the title-track plunges us into a
hectic world of shifting rhythms and agile improvising. All three
musicians are capable of startling speed on their instruments, with
Mahanthappa often verging on the avant-garde. Towards the end of the
title-track, the three show how they can play the same complex rhythms
in perfect synchronization.
Vandanaa Trayee is slower - more songlike, with Abassi making his guitar sound very like the Indian sitar or sarod. There is an oriental atmosphere to Rudresh's saxophone sound in Adana, creating an Indian ambience not only in what he plays but how he plays it. Palika Market is less appealing: starting with a rather irritating ostinato pattern on the guitar accompanying a tabla solo. When Rudresh's saxophone enters, the tune tends to wander, seemingly aimlessly.
IIT (it would have been useful if the sleeve-notes had explained some of the mysterious titles!) has some sharp exchanges between sax and guitar, underlined by the tabla. This is the longest track on the album, passing through various phases which create jazz's "sound of surprise" with some startlingly precise playing from the trio. Baladhi is a slow, thoughtful piece introduced by Rudresh's keening sax and Rez Abassi conjuring a strangely extended sound from his guitar. The CD ends with You Talk Too Much, which again starts with weird guitar sounds but develops into a whirling dervish dance of a tune when the saxophone enters. The brilliance of all three musicians is clear on this track - and throughout the whole album.