Raga Bop is a fun play on words; the perfect name for that long standing amalgam of American jazz and Hindustani classical music. One wonders why it took so long for someone to come up it.
The trio that sports the name is a collaborative effort of Prasanna, a south Indian guitarist, Steve Smith, a rock and roll drummer who once played with Journey and George Brooks, sax player, composer and band leader. Smith had played with the other two separately as a duo on various projects before hitting on the idea of combining their separate efforts into a trio that explores building jazz on top of a Carnatic music base.
Smith and Brooks had both been interested in and involved in mixing their musical visions with subcontinental music. Smith, though most famous as the drummer of a mega rock act, has been a devotee of Carnatic percussion for many years. Brooks a saxophonist and composer has in turn been a lover of Hindustani classical music which from time to time has influenced his performance and writing. Both men knew and had performed with Prasanna, probably the world’s greatest naval engineer cum guitarist! As all three individuals loved composing as much as playing, the prospect of working together was too exciting not to pursue. Recognizing that such a collaboration could be a hit or a big miss, they girded their loins and set out hoping for some magic.
What resulted is the album under the Harmonium bright lights this evening: Ragabop Trio. After many listens I must say this is a winner of an album. They didn’t miss at all. Rather they have hit pretty much as close to the bullseye as you can get. Prasanna’s guitar playing is for me the stand out delight of the album. Not only can he tickle the strings in that warm southern Carnatic way he can stroke and swing his instrument like a lover practicing all the moves of the kama sutra—teasing, gentle, cheeky and commanding.
Smith’s drum work is the ever present strength throughout. With a sound and style that clearly counts Steve Gadd among his influences Smith is able to demonstrate an array of rhythms and affinity with complex beats that rivals Prasanna’s mastery on the guitar.
Perhaps I am being unfair but even though Brooks does pull off some wondrous sounds that are not too distant from a Madurai temple at festival time, I feel as if his playing is mostly uninspired. Almost superfluous. At worst the sax grates (but luckily there are very few ‘worst’ moments).
Still, don’t let that get you down. The Ragabop Trio not only have coined a stellar name for their combo, they’ve delivered a really enjoyable record. The Sanskrit-scatting is a thick icing on the cake!
01 Tug Of War
02 Miss Oma
03 Love And Hunger
06 The Geometry Of Rap
08 Dubai Dance