Northern Ragas: Bansal Trio


Bansal Trio

I can’t get enough of this one. Its been on Plex pretty much non stop all weekend. And I’ve got it downloaded for my upcoming road trip (10 days each in Papua New Guinea and Vietnam) so it will calm me and settle me in what are always stress filled occasions.

The last post featured violin played by one of the undisputed masters of the instrument (East or West), Dr. L. Subramaniam. As many of you would know the violin has mainly featured in south Indian classical (Carnatic) music.  This recording of the Bansal Trio of Norway is the first use of the instrument in a Hindustani classical (khyal) setting that I’ve come across. And it is stunning.

Harpreet Bansal is a Norwegian violinst of Indian Sikh origin and the leader of a number of musical outfits that explore the shared territory of jazz and western and Indian classical music.  One hesitates to use such a controversial word as ‘fusion’ but there is no doubt that Bansal has found a wonderful way to blend (perhaps a more palatable word) the several traditions.


Harpreet Bansal


Here is what her record company, Jazzland, has to say about this recording.

Bansal herself has had an outstanding career to date, working with many outstanding performers in both eastern (Ustad Sharif Khan, Tariq Khan, Sukhvinder Singh Namdari, Shabaz Hossein, and Rafaqat Ali Khan) and western (Unni Løvlid, Poing, The Source, Per Oddvar Johansen, Stian Carstensen, Nils Olav Johansen, Ingebjørg Bratland, Steinar Ofsdal, and Morten Halle) musical traditions. Her expressive, technically elegant style joyfully traverses boundaries of genre and historical tradition with graceful ease. Vojtěch Procházka also has a fine pedigree as one of the foremost young Czech pianists, and a CV that includes Ivar Grydeland, Per Oddvar Johansen, Kari Rønnekleiv, Espen Reinertsen, Ingar Zach and Kim Myhr. Andreas Bratlie is a drummer and percussionist who has quietly forged his career, and has worked with many artists, notably Andreas Ljones, Bertine Zetlitz, Mira Craig, and Noora Noor. On this recording, he also brings elements of voice alongside his superb table and percussion work. 

The music exposes varied moods of light and shade, serenity through to agitation, and a degree of hinted spirituality amid urban humdrum automatism. The extended piece, Bhairavi,- a traditional piece arranged and interpreted by the group, stands as a monolithic centrepiece, both in scale and variation, while the rest of the album features various meditations upon traditional pieces, as well as three original compositions.

What I love about Chandra (moon or lunar, in Sanskrit) is how well the Indian and the Western work together. Her pianist Vojtech Prochazka takes the basic scales of each raga but plays them with a flow and cohesion that is entirely western.  And Bansal is able to make her violin keep pace, by turns supporting and leading the mesmerising dance.  Andreas Bratlie on tabla provides solid, tasteful meter. If one was looking for nits to pick one could argue that with the exception of Track 4 (Puria Dhanshri) the compositions are rather laid back and don’t truly explore new combinations and possibilities of sound.  But I don’t think that is the point. It is not so much about breaking new ground but the flow of communication between the trio that makes this music stand out from the crowd.

And as much as the interplay between the three is spectacular, Bansal’s solos simply shimmer like quicksilver. I’m immediately reminded of the singing of Kishori Amonkar for the way in which the sound seems to sit on the ear so lightly and delightfully.

In any case, this is really top notch music. Label it anyway you like, but I bet you’ll not come away unmoved.



Track Listing:

01 Charukeshi

02 Malkauns

03 Bhairavi

04 Puria Dhnasri

05 Kripavati

06 Mora Saiyan


Triple Treat: Gary Boyle ‘Patna wala’

gboyle 1960s

Gary Boyle

Recently I had the great pleasure of making the acquaintance of Gary Boyle, one of those figures who has remained lost in the pages of history of rock music.  It’s like when you’re reading a thick tome on some topic and you keep seeing a name pop up in the footnotes.  After a while you begin to think: hell, who IS this guy?

I won’t say too much because you can read my recently published interview with Gary and get all the relevant details.  Suffice it to say, he is one rocker that deserves far more than the obscurity he seems to have been relegated to.  Here’s just a few names he’s been associated with:

  • The Beatles
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Millie Small
  • Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll
  • Steampacket
  • Eddie Harris
  • Stomu Yamashta
  • East Wind
  • Chris Blackwell
  • Gary Moore
  • Soft Machine

And since the publication of the interview (just a few days ago) I’ve received  information from a ‘higly reliable source’ that Gary was part of a ’70s music scene in London that included even luminaries such as Led Zeppelin!

So don’t be ignorant any longer. Here are three slices of Gary Boyle, the Bihar-born guitarist you should have known about a long long time ago.

Slice One.

For several years in the late 60s and then again in the early 70s Gary was the guitarist for blues/jazz/rock outfit Trinity, led by organist Brian Auger and gorgeous vocalist Julie Driscoll. Open, released in 1968, has a sound that slides between soul-jazz and jazz-rock with material that is mostly covers of the likes of Donavan, Dylan and Lowell Fulsom. Which should be no reason to wrinkle up your nose .  AllMusic, the go-to Bible of the music obsessed, gives the album 4 out of 5 stars.  It is, indeed, a very nice slice of late 60s ‘flower power’ psych music. Gary’s guitar work especially on the first half of the record is wonderful, demonstrating his facility with the a swinging sort of blues rock that I simply adore.

It was during his tenure with Brian Auger that he and Jimi Hendrix became mates. But just after recording Open, Gary quit to pursue a couple of years of jazz guitar instruction in Leeds.  He would return to Auger’s fold in ’71-’72.

Track Listing:


01 In and Out

02 Isola Natale

03 Black Cat

04 Lament for Miss Baker

05 Goodbye Jungle Telegraph

06 Tramp

07 Why (Am I Treated So Bad)

08 A Kind of Love In

09 Break It Up

10 Season of the Witch

11 I’ve Gotta Go Now [bonus track]

12 Save Me [bonus track]

13 This Wheel’s on Fire [bonus track]

14 Road to Cairo [bonus track]


Slice Two.

In 1973 Gary formed his own jazz-rock band, Isotope. While it never attained the popularity of such groups as Weather Report or Return to Forever, who pioneered a similar style of improv-heavy electric jam music, now known as ‘fusion’, Isotope was (is) regarded highly by fans, critics and peers.  Indeed, Isotope had a large following in the UK and in 1975/6 (?) were ready to tour the States. Represented by Motown of all labels, they arrived in New York exhausted from a European tour.  Several meetings took place with label executives and Billy Cobhaman Isotope fan, even put his hand up to produce their next album.  According to Gary though, the band was tired, and rather than face the prospect of more grueling weeks on the road, abandoned the tour and returned to England.  One can only wonder, what if?

Here is All Music’s review of Isotope, their self-titled debut.  A couple more albums followed before the band finally broke up.  This is not a style of music I naturally gravitate to but the more I listen to this album the more I find to appreciate.  The interplay between Gary on guitar and Brian Miller on keyboards is genuinely exciting. And it is not all lightning paced riff-juggling either. When both mellow out, on tracks like Windmills and Waterfalls, they show they are just as musical and inventive on acoustic versions of their instruments as when they are fully amped.  This is one that keeps growing on me.

Track Listing:


01 Then There Were Four

02 Do The Business

03 Oh Little Fat Man

04 Sunshine Park

05 Bite On This

06 Upward Curve

07 Retracing My Steps

08 Windmills And Waterfalls

09 Honkey Donkey


Slice Three:

Gary is ambivalent about missing out on the ‘the big time’.  He was always a guitarist first and foremost; it was playing, learning and hanging out with people who liked to do the same that meant the most. He’s the first to admit he was ‘hopeless’ at the business of running a band, and when things eventually fell apart beyond repair in the late 1970s he basically retired from the scene which he done so much to help create.  After Isotope he reached the highest point of his career with the album The Dancer which was voted best pop/jazz album of 1978 by the Montreux Jazz Festival!

Electric Glide (1978), in which he is joined by bluesman Gary Moore, is my current favourite Gary Boyle album.  From the opening track, Snap Crackle, there is a light and lively feel to the music. You can feel his joy and (perhaps) anticipation that things were once again looking up.  The jazz sounds are more smooth and his playing is simply awesome. “Even today I don’t consider myself a jazz guitarist”, he told me.  The man is too humble.  The record is filled with outstanding  and diverse music.  Some of it straight-ahead fusion with trademark, shimmering, quicksilver guitar runs by both Boyle and Moore (Hayabusa), some of it Bensonesque, slap-bass puncuated soul jazz (Electric Glide). Again, acoustic tracks (Morning Father Joys; It’s Almost Light Again) are simply delightful while Gaz gives Moore an opportunity to break out with some hairy chested blues-rock.

All Music gives all three albums 4/5 stars.  I beg to differ on this one though. It’s nothing short of 5 stars all the way.

Track Listing:


01 Snap Crackle

02 Hayabusa

03 Electric Glide

04 Morning Father Joys

05 Gaz

06 It’s Almost Light Again

07 Grumble

08 Brat No. 2


In the long history of India and the guitar, you’re not going to get much music that tops the work of the greatest guitarist you’ve never heard of, Mr. Gary Boyle.


Hidden Jewel: Rupa Biswas


There is probably no more ridiculous development in the history of and writing about music than the notion of ‘labels’. Taking a piece of music and categorising it into a single ‘genre’ or ‘style’ is an exercise in futility.  Oft quoted but eternally ignored, Duke Ellington’s saw that there is only ‘good music and the other kind’ remains all there needs to be said about the problem.


Yet, for those of us who think possessing massive music libraries is an important thing, the issue is a practical one. Whether you have walls and walls of LPs, racks of CDs or hard discs full of digital files, having everything labelled simply ‘good’ or ‘other’ is not particularly helpful.  And unless you know every album or track in your collection intimately and can find it easily, most of the time you’re going to find labels and tags and categories a necessary, if silly, evil.


In recent years these labels and genres have proliferated like so many psychedelic rabbits. I’m forever amused by the new labels people come up with for their music: shoegazer, bedwetter, garage punk, bubbletrance, aggrotech, crustpunk, deep psychobilly, fidget house etc. etc.   What the delicate idiosyncrasies of each category are, are beyond me and probably to those who listen to them as well, but it is fun that’s for sure.  My own practice is to keep it simple. Pop, World, Jazz, Reggae, Country, Blues, R&B, Classical and a few other old fashioned labels I picked up from the record stores I used to haunt suit me just fine.


But the challenges keep popping up.


Take today’s share for example.  The album is called Disco Jazz, which sounds like the producers couldn’t be bothered to think of anything interesting. Slap a couple labels on it and see if it sells. The Indian Canadian production from the early 80s certainly (in some parts) qualifies as disco-esque. But definitely not jazz. Unless by jazz you mean slang for ‘stuff’.  On the internet the album is labelled, ‘funk, soul, disco’ and even ‘Bollywood funk’.  Not so much misleading as plain irrelevant. There is nothing funky here that James Brown or the boys from Cymande would recognise and, as for soul, well, that’s just another planet.  So, how does one label this music?


For my money this is non-film Indian pop music sung in Bengali.  The singer is a mysterious sukhi roti– looking college girl named Rupa Biswas. Not a spectacular voice by Indian standards but given its focus on getting people on the dance floor, adequate to the task.  What is really interesting about this record is the music.


India was introduced to the concept of disco music in the early 80s through (what else) the movies. Though it wasn’t the first, Firoz Khan’s 1980 blockbuster Qurbani (Sacrifice) used the sound of upbeat, semi-electronic synth and bass, disco lights and scantily clad women instrumentalists (prefiguring Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love by half a decade)  to mesmerise a nation.

Aap Jaisa Koi  was India’s first massive disco hit and led to the creation of a new sound that infiltrated the movies for the next ten years. The most famous names in Indian disco were larger-than-life musical director Bappi Lahiri and composer/arranger/performer Babla. Though both men produced some interesting work that has found new audiences in recent years, they never ventured too far from the Qurbani sound.

Disco Jazz on the other hand is in an entirely different realm. Biswas is backed by a crack group of Indian and Canadian musicians led by none other than Ustad Aashish Khan, one of India’s outstanding living musicians on sarodKhan has long collaborated with Western pop and jazz musicians, led so called ‘fusion’ groups [Shringar, Wonderwall, Shanti] promoted Indian classical music through his educational efforts and scored or participated in the soundtracks for films such The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi and a number of Satyajit Ray’s films.


Ustad Aashish Khan

He’s supported by the amazing guitarist Don Pope, who with Khansahib creates the energy and drive and excitement of this record.

Popeand Khan trade solos and jugalbandi back and forth throughout this set daring the rest of the band that includes renown jazz drummer Robin Tufts, bassist John Johnston, tablasaaz and accompanist of Ali Akbar Khan and others, Pranesh Khan, keyboardist Geoff Ball, synthesizer Rhonda Padmos, and percussionist Frank Lockwood to keep pace. Pope’s guitar playing is fluid, gliding effortlessly between jazzy textures and hot dancefloor strumming.  As for the sarod, Aashish Khan makes it sound as if he’s playing a mandolin or bazouki in a back street rembetika outfit.

This disco is about as far away from Bappi Lahiriand Qurbani as you can get.  It is tough, serious, masterful but still immense fun.

Whatever became of Rupa Biswas?  Of all the principals, she is the hardest to track down.  One of the tracks from Disco Jazz, Moja Bhari Moja,was included in the 2012 ‘art’ film Miss Lovely but the only other reference I’ve been able to track down to a Rupa Biswas is of a Bengali woman purported to be Rupa, lip syncing and dancing.  Not sure if this is THE Rupa or if it is a completely different Ms. Biswas altogether.  But it sounds a bit disco-y so my bet is Rupa is still out there somewhere.


Disco Jazz is a rare jewel. I hope you enjoy it.



Track Listing:

  1. Moja Bhari Moja
  2. East West Shuffle
  3. Aaj Shanibar
  4. Aaye Morshume Be-Reham Duniya


Progressing the Tradition: Rafiki Jazz


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.



Track Listing:

  1. Sunno
  2. Saya
  3. Tasbih
  4. You Are Light
  5. Har Chand Sahara
  6. Jhooli Lal Qalandar
  7. Cheikh Amadou Bamba


By the Trunk of Ganesha: Kadri Gopalnath

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Kadri Gopalnath was born in Mangalore, on India’s west coast.  As a young boy, while on a visit to the royal city of Mysore Kadri had his Damascus moment. As a marching band made its way through the streets he spied a strange looking instrument, unlike anything he’d seen to that time. It was brass and looked a bit like the trunk of Ganesha reaching up to accept the gift of a banana.   Kadri was entranced and bugged his father to tell him what the instrument was.  “A saxophone. Now keep quiet,” scolded his father.


Kadri Gopalnath

Kadri Gopalnath

As an adult, Sri Gopalnath, has carved out a niche for himself as the most famous, and most accomplished Indian saxophone player.  Like many of his musical peers who took to western instruments (guitar, violin, clarinet) he had to make some adjustments to the classic jazz instrument to make it perform and sound the way he wished, which was the Carnatic classical musical way.


Over thirty years ago while attending India’s premier international jazz festival in Bombay, his playing caught the year of John Handy. Asking the young musician to play with him he was immediately taken by this strange but familiar music coming out of the sax.  Sort of like free jazz pioneered in the lofts of New York in the 60’s, Gopalnath’s playing was nothing like the music American jazzmen were making.


Over the years, Kadri Gopalnath, has toured the world, both as an Indian classical musician as well as a partner with some of the great jazzmen of the day.  He has collaborated with fellow sax player Rudresh Mahantappa (among many others) and received rapturous accolades from audiences and critics alike.


Here is a CD of his Carnatic playing that I picked up in Chennai several years back.  Enjoy this fresh music!

Captivating Sounds Of Saxophone And Tavil

Track Listing:

01 Raja Raja Aradhithe – Niroshta – Thistra Adi – Muthiah Bhagavathar

02 Adukaradhuni – Manoranjini – Adi – Thyagaraja

03 Baja Mana Rama – Sindhu Bhairavi – Adi – Thulasi Dasar

04 Raga Alapana – Karaharapriya

05 Rama Neeyata – Karaharapriya – Adi – Thyagaraja

06 Sri Rama Padhama – Amirtha Vahini – Adi – Thyagaraja

07 Western Notes

08 Swami Sangeetham – Ayyappan Song

09 Magudi