December 18, 2000
RAJASH MEHTA/ROHAN DE SARAM/TRICHY SANKARAN
Innovative Music Meeting
True Muze TUMU CD 0002
Skeptics who accept without qualification European or North American musicians' ability to combine for improvisational forays, despite their different background, may be confused by the ethnic mixing on this disc.
But just as Europeans have introduced folk and "classical" elements to what was initially an African-American music, so the three players whose roots are in the Indian subcontinent plunder their sonic backgrounds to add to the improv gestalt. The result is an outstanding CD that should impress as many as it fascinates.
For a start, each of the musicians is involved with more than the subcontinent's traditional music. Calcutta-born Rajash Mehta, master of the hybrid trumpet along with more common brass instruments, was raised in the U.S., but now lives in Europe. A student of Anthony Braxton, he has worked with musicians as varied as avant-rock bands and German Free Improv drummer Paul Lovens. Best known as a member of the Arditti String Quartet, which specializes in contemporary composed music, British-based de Rohan Saram is has also studied the drum rhythms of his native Sir Lanka and in 1987 recorded with Euroimprov grandfathers AMM. The most outwardly traditional, Trichy Sankaran — who has taught South Indian music at Toronto's York University for almost 30 years — has also worked with such jazzmen as Charlie Haden and Paul Plimley as well with classical and electronic ensembles.
Preconceptions must be put aside when listening to this disc. For with Mehta's brass assemblage, Sankaran's percussion battery and de Saram's pizzicato and arco cello skills constantly available, a whole range of sounds appears.
Consider "Bhava 3", for instance. It's how you imagine Miles Davis would sound if he was from Sri Lanka not St. Louis, with Mehta's breathy, muted the trumpet tones perfectly complimented by soft cello excursions. "Flies and Frogs" is completely different with mini bee-like buzzes from the brass, matching tones with electroacoustic cello slides and a constant percussive back beat. Other times though, Mehta's sour tone may appear out-of-tune to the Occidental or non-Improv-familiar ear.
De Saram's tour-de-force comes on "Laughing Man's Sea". Almost alarming in its intensity, you can hear the strings being pulled, prodded and manipulated, while a sharp, ear wrenching tone — probably from the hybrid trumpet — advances into the forefront. "Trichy's Rap" is another goof on the expected heritage roots, with the percussionist's "ethnic", unrhymed vocals accompanied by weighty tones from all the instruments.
One of the joys of this meeting is those times when you can't completely link a sound to a particular instrument. Was that a tambourine or a tabla, you just heard, you wonder, and was that other fleeting tone from a guitar or a bass?
Unlike such fleetingly fashionable terms like raga rock or Indo-jazz there's no real fusion on this CD. Just well played impressive sounds that will hopefully encourage others to explore this non-Western improv path.
Track Listing: 1. In time 2. Shiva's house 3. Bhava 1 4. Flies and Frogs 5. Partial Differentials 6. Trichy's Rap 7. Ceylonese Funeral 8. Bhava 2. 9. Laughing Man's Sea 10. Bhava 3 11. Asymptotes 12. Bardo
Personnel: Rejesh Mehta (trumpet, slide trumpet, hybrid trumpet); Rohan de Saram (cello); Trichy Sankaran (mrdangam, kanjira, konnakkol, vocals)