Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta

Upward
Prescott Recording No #

By Ken Waxman

Looking for a soundtrack for your next folksy New Age Raga party? Then look no further than Upward. Although Sacramento-based 12-string guitarist Ross Hammond and Brooklyn-based educator and tabla player Sameer Gupta have fine musical backgrounds, what they’ve come up with on the this eight-track CD are sounds that seem to combine the most jejune rhythmic variations with the most tedious string strumming. The result may be perfect for some kind of mind-emptying meditation, but like a dhoti worn instead of a business suit it could have limited appeal.

Indian inflected sounds have been used since the mid-‘60s by tone searchers such as John Coltrane and Joe Harriott to bring something unique to standard musical forms. Players such as guitarist Gabor Szabor even became popular adding new modes to standard jazz-pop tunes. But Hammond and Gupta seem to have gone the other way. Hammond, who in the past has collaborated with the likes of reedists Vinny Golia and Catherine Sikora, appears to have stripped all the drama and emotion out of his playing, except for the odd bottle-neck-like crunch on “For Chris Ferreira” and darker, staccato chording on “Kenyetta, The Professor and The Redeemer”. But even here, these high points vanish as quickly as spots on the sun, leaving a bland, undisturbed surface. Gupta, who is also a jazz percussionist, working regularly with pianist Marc Cary and others, appears to be sounding the same monotonous pattern throughout each of the tunes. Even when the two play slightly faster for a bit on “Farm to Tabla”, momentum is lost as quickly as the interest factor is for a crowd gathered at a Jeb Bush rally. The fact that most tracks fade before completion is another clue to the unravelling of this sonically passive program.

Perhaps listening to one track at a time with long pauses between them would make this CD more palatable to some. Perhaps adding other players – or some strong black coffee – would have given a boost to this session. Whatever is needed Upward is the last word that comes to mind when describing this music.

Track Listing: Upward; For Chris Ferreira; Cycle of One; When Kesslers Rage; Farm to Tabla; Kenyetta, The Professor and The Redeemer; Gravity House; Being and Becoming

Personnel: Ross Hammond: 12-string guitar; Sameer Gupta: table

—For The New York City Jazz Record March 2016