Bustan Abrahamwas an Israeli music collective that made several albums of what can only be called ‘light fusion jazz cum world sounds’. As ugly as most labels go, this one is one of the most ugly. But the music, for which I am a big time sucker, is brilliant. And of course beyond classification or silly labels.
Fanar is a 1997 release featuring the Indian giants Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri/bamboo flute). Fanar means ‘lantern’ in Arabic and it is appropriate because this is as I said brilliant. The music sparkles even on the slower more moody numbers. The playing is virtuoistic and crisp. These gentlemen are really enjoying playing with each other.
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia
The highlight for me and the inspiration for the title of this post is the playing of Chaurasia. The young wrestler turned revolutionary classical musician is no doubt one of the finest Indian artists ever. Many non-Indian acts have drawn on him over the years to jam with or to add a certain exotic Indian spice to their work. But this album is the first time I have ever heard Chaurasia sound as if he is a true jazz flautist. In the opening track especially, but throughout the album, he blows his instrument with the same intensity as Coltrane. And in so doing, invokes the sounds of Hubert Laws or even Ian Anderson. If you had no idea who was playing I think very few would identify the Allahabadi Chaurasia.
Just as when the first time I really heard Coltrane and had to stop doing whatever I was doing to just listen, so to with Fanar.
Though the centerpiece of this wonderful recording is best suited for later in the day then mid-sunny-afternoon I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been listening to Joshi’s rendering of Raga Puriya Dhanshree on heavy rotation for the past several weeks.
I am NO expert in dissecting the intricate workings of various ragas. I tend to go for voices and let their owner’s work their magic. I understand that Puriya Dhanshreeis a complex raga with much scope for expression as well as emotional layering. From dark and wrathful to compassionate and more.
I have found this raga and Joshi’ssinging of it to be reassuring and all encompassing. As if it were a dark but not necesarily threatening but deep cave. You don’t conquer such a place but rather let it reveal itself, its inner passages and concealed redoubts. Its a slow but intoxicating process.
Rafiki Jazz, from Sheffield in the UK confounds easy categorization. The band which includes musicians from the Senegalese and South Asian diasporas as well as British and refugee musicians has been called ‘the most diverse band in the UK’. The group’s website claims the band plays ‘jazz world’ music.
The jazz reference in their name continues a long tradition of African bands using the word: Bembeya Jazz National, TPOK Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz and Morogoro Jazz. Of course, the music these and countless other ‘jazz’ bands played while improvisational to some extent and solo-friendly sounded nothing like the American original. The African sounds were free wheeling and danceable with guitars being the primary heroes of the stage.
Rafiki Jazz draws deep on Africa for much of its sound which again bears little resemblance to the iconic bands named above. High in the mix is a powerful strain of Sufi music and Indian sangeet. Indeed, though the band’s name is African/Middle Eastern (rafiki=friends) most of the tracks make you think this is a subcontinental band, especially as the title Har Dam Sahara is emblazoned in Urdu on the cover.
This is an album full of wonderful sounds, pauses and instruments. Definitely a couple listens are required to start to an appreciation for the many jewels contained within. But I highly recommend this to friends of this blog even if it doesn’t technically qualify as South Asian.
Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan maestros of their respective instruments–violin and sarod–have made huge contributions to the two main branches of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani. At the same time both have adventured far beyond their own gardens, coupling, tripling and even quadrupling up with a whole assortment of jazz, rock and Western classical musicians. Along with Ravi Shankar, Dr sahib and Ustadji are rightly recognised as some of the best known Indian classical musicians in the West. Any number of albums could be suggested to you but among my favorite is Karuna Supremean early and outstanding example of Hindustani music blended with American jazz (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy) and Conversations (L. Subramaniam and Stephane Grappelli).
It should come as no surprise then that these two great men came together to do an ‘Inter-India’ fusion album. While sharing several commonalities like the raga (the essential musical frame for all compositions) and a similar scale (though with more semitones available to the Carnatic musician) the music of North India is very different from that of the South. So this album, originally available on cassette, is a fusion of two branches of one of the world’s oldest musical systems.
Raga Jog is sometimes known as Ragam Naatin Carnatic music. Several North Indian ragas have what you could call counterparts in the South, though to be historically accurate and to acknowledge that Carnatic music is considered to the ‘original’ Indian music, I should probably turn that sentence around. Many Carnatic ragams have Northern ragacounterparts.
Raga Jog, some say can be traced back to the time of the court of Akbar the Great (15th C.). True or not, I don’t know but this raga is certainly melodious and both maestros give powerful, sympathetic performances.
Joytsna Srikanth is a London-based violinist with an amazing CV. Classical singing training begins at age 5. But by age 9 she has discovered the violin and gives her first solo concert. More classical music (Carnatic and Western) training. Gets her professional start playing for Illayraja in Tamil movies. Moves to London where she plays her violin for TV series on the National Geographic and Discovery channels. In between performing with the likes of M. Balamuralikrishna (singer), Kadri Gopalnath (sax), Eduardo Niebla (flamenco guitarist) and Rao Kyao (sax) she organizes the annual London International Arts Festival.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. She is a practicing pathologist too!
Somehow in 2016 she found time to make an album with the English group, Bollywood Brass Band, a music collective the specializes in performing Indian folk, qawwali and Hindi film songs. The album is called Carnatic Connection and is comprised of what sound to me like South Indian film songs. Certainly there are a couple of A.R. Rahman compositions and I’m sure more than one by Illayraja. All of the 14 tracks are-as you’d expect-lively and upbeat. Some are rather jazzy with Ms Srikanth sounding like Jean Luc Ponty in fusion glory. Others are pure disco. All in all good grooves, beats and lots of fantastic playing.
01 Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu
02 Kehta Hai Mehra Dil (Kannodu Kaanbadellam)
03 Deva Deva Kalayami
04 Drum Dance – Chandralekha
05 Sword Fight – Chandralekha
06 Jai Ho
07 Kehna Hi Kya (Kannalane)
08 Jiya Jale
09 Why This Kolaveri Di
10 Aa Ante Amalapuram
11 Rakkamma (Clap Clap Mix by Charlie Girl)
12 Deva Deva (Molly’s Bar Mix by Rob Kelly)
13 Drum Dance (Diamond Cut Mix)
14 Deva Deva Kalayami (Molly’s Bar Extended Alaap Mix – Rob Kelly)