The fusion of jazz with Indian music has perhaps drawn less attention, but this also began in the sixties, with Bud Shank appearing on a Ravi Shankar recording in 1961, John Mayer and Joe Harriot's Indo-Jazz Fusions recording in England in 1966. Then in 1975, Indo-Jazz really took off as sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan recorded with with altoist John Handy and guitarist John McLaughlin formed his group Shakti with tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussein and violinist Shankar. Since then a number of jazz artists have undertaken successful collaborations with their Indian counterparts, most notably Charlie Mariano, Ornette Coleman, Jamie Baum, John Wubbenhorst, Steve Gorn, Trilok Gurtu and others.
It is a very fertile relationship. Both jazz and Indian music are based on virtuoso displays of melodic and rhythmic improvisation, and while jazz lacks the subtleties of intonation characteristic of Hindustani (North Indian) and Karnatik (South Indian) performance techniques, musicians from the two cultures have been able to find very fertile common ground, usually slanted slightly more toward the Indian side as a result of the limited harmonic capabilities of the Indian instruments. Tihai is a new group that further exploits this relationship, and this is their first recording.
Formed by Italian acoustic guitarist Luca Calore and Indian Sitarist Deobrat Mishra, the group is named for the tihai, sometimes called tiya, the most typical of the Indian cadential rhythmic forms, often used to bring a performance to an exciting conclusion. "The Tihai project," we read at their website (www.tihai.net), " was born and developed over three years of musical researches in India that lead Luca Calore to meet and study with some of the biggest exponents of the Indian music scene, artists such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Trilok Gurtu, and Pandit Shivnat Mishr." On one track, (and on all the tracks of their second CD, Hot Jam On Bombay Ground, currently available in preview form only), they are joined by Rupak Kulkarni, an exponent of the bansuri, or Indian bamboo flute and student of the instrument's great master Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. The group is rounded out by "an exciting new talent on the tabla, Aditya Kalyanpur who has become well known in the West for his solo performance during the recent Rolling Stones concert held in Bombay and for the recording collaboration with their saxophonist Tim Ries."
Recorded in India in 2003, and produced in Italy by producer/sound engineer Mattia Berti, The Bet is a collection of four songs, which are, again quoting from their website, " . . . intended to be a perfect combination of eastern and western music. The songs are based on guitar-sitar duets and they develop melodies deeply rooted in the indian classical music theory and in its rhythms, painted with the colours of harmony." A fifth, so-called bonus track, introduces the sound of the bansuri and the vocal work of Paolo Avanzo.
The question is how well this genre works. It often does, and there are a number of such recordings that I treasure. But when it does, it is almost always jazz that gains and Indian music that loses. Jazz can only benefit from the melodic intricacies of Hindustani music or the driving rhythms of the Karnatic tradition. But there are some extremely subtle elements of Indian performance that have to be sacrificed in order to work with Western music of any kind. These include a tuning system based on 22 divisions of the octave (although this is rapidly being undermined by the use of harmoniums and other equal-tempered keyboard instruments) and the specificity of ragas, or melody forms, to specific seasons and time of day (See my article at www.sacredscience.com/archive) In the case of Tihai, the balance is again tilted toward Hindustani music, with Luca Calore's guitar (adapted to the genre by the addition of several sympathetic strings) working in partnership with Mishra's sitar in the manner of the classic Hindustani jugalbandi type duet, articulating rhythmic gats or compositions on Jog Duet but reverting to a more Western sound during his passages on Blue Silk with a sound midway between Django Reinhardt and John McLaughlin. The Bet alternates between a gipsy jazz feeling from Calore, while Mishra and Kalyanpur stay at home in the Hindustani genre. The two genres do not mesh entirely but they fit well together and the overall result is pleasing. Calore attempts a more Indian sound on Kashi without ever quite achieving the idiomatic guitar sound of a Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. Clouds Tale has some lovely flute from Kulkarni but then suddenly, and disconcertingly, flips to a Pink Floyd type strings wash followed by Avanzo's wordless vocal which is interesting for about a minute but goes on for five.
This is an engaging first attempt at a delicate musical fusion. If the preview of Hot Jam On Bombay Ground is anything to go by, they are getting better at it. I look forward to further releases with interest.