Sandy Evans has won many awards including the Inaugural Bell Award For Australian Jazz Musician of The Year 2003, a Young Australian Creative Fellowship, APRA Award for Jazz Composition of the Year, 2 Mo Awards and three ARIA Awards. And the Order of Australia. Possibly the most decorated of the many great Sydney musicians to grace our stage:
I contributed to Selecta a few years ago with a general list so when Jim asked me about contributing this time I decided to concentrate on one of my current areas of interest: the dialogue between Indian music and jazz, especially in saxophone playing. I think the best is yet to come in this field, a pretty exciting prospect in a world where it can seem like everything’s already been done! But these recordings have caught my ear in some significant way.
1.Impressions (Coltrane, 1961)
I was a bit of a Coltrane addict in my early years as a player. When I listen to him now I love him even more. If you get hooked on Coltrane’s music it gets under your skin in a deep way, almost like an addiction. This is what happens in the best Indian music too. A mood or flavour (rasa in Indian music) haunts you and transports you to a point transcending mundane reality. From what I understand, this quality in Indian music resonated with Coltrane. I chose this particular Coltrane classic partly because of the tune ‘India’, an obvious reference to his interest in Indian culture, but mostly because Coltrane and Dolphy both play some awesome solos and I love the two bass effect on ‘India’.
2. Apti (Mahanthappa, 2008)
Rudresh Mahanthappa(Mahanthappa, 2008) is a relatively recent discovery for me. This is my favourite of his recordings with an Indian connection. He doesn’t buy into the 1960s hippy transcendence referred to in the last paragraph…..India as an exotic culture that we can all get high on! I have to point out one thing here: North (Hindustani) and South (Carnatic) Indian musics are very different. As well as that there are many regional differences and folk styles, so to talk about Indian music as one genre is not accurate at all. Rudresh comes from a South Indian family background (therefore heard Carnatic music as a youngster), but grew up in the US as a jazz player and has a tabla player (Hindustani instrument) who’s a white guy (Dan Weiss), and a Pakistani (Rez Abassi) who plays jazz guitar in this band the Indo-Pak Coalition. He’s got some cool interviews on his website about cultural mix and the resulting music. But most importantly, he’s a great sax player and is bringing Carnatic influences into his compositions and playing in a confident way with a beautiful trio of guitar, tabla and alto.
3.Indo Jazz Suite (Indo-Jazz Fusion, 1966)
It’s back to the 60s, this time in the UK, where composer/violinist John Mayer instigated one of the first projects seriously attempting a fusion of jazz and Hindustani music with UK based Jamaican alto player Joe Harriott. The band, Indo-Jazz Fusions, is a double quintet with five jazz and five Indian musicians playing predominantly Mayer’s compositions. Harriott’s playing on these recordings is vibrant jazz playing that doesn’t attempt to sound ‘Indian’. Perhaps because of this there is a freshness to the recordings that is quite liberating. Mayer experiments with applying Western classical compositional techniques to Hindustani ragas. Indo Jazz Suite was their first recording and is interesting to me because it opens doors about ways to think about composition in this genre. John Mayer dived into a vast ocean where no-one had thought to go before, sending ripples in many directions.
4. Eastern Horizons (Munro, 1967)
Australia had its own pioneers incorporating eastern flavours into jazz in the 1960s. Saxophonist/cellist Charlie Munro made this legendary recording in 1967. I knew of this record but hadn’t heard it until recently when it was rereleased and I was knocked out by the great playing and beautiful compositions.
5. Jyothi (Mariano, 1983)
While I was studying at the Con, Roger Frampton, one of my teachers, went to India to perform with his group ‘Intersection’ at Jazz Yatra. I remember him coming back from India with a recording he’d made when he sat in on a rehearsal at The Karnataka College of Percussion in Bangalore. Roger was very hip with rhythm and was completely knocked out by the rhythmic virtuosity of these musicians. We listened over and over to that recording trying to work out what they were doing and how they could be so damn good! I found this LP which had just come out at the time and realized Mariano was deep into the Carnatic culture and having fun with it on the sax. Vocalist R.A. Ramamani performs some exquisite solos on this record.
6. Sangam (Lloyd, 2004)
A live recording with the trio of Charles Lloyd (tenor) Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Eric Harland (drums). I enjoy the meeting points between the rhythmic approaches of tabla and jazz drums on this recording. Lloyd’s playing is beautiful but doesn’t attempt to engage with the rhythmic syntax of Indian music. He does his thing while Zakir does his in a parallel stream, but the musicianship and interaction results in some great music.
7. VidyA (Radhakrishnan, 2008)
Prasant Radhakrishnan is one of Kadri Gopalnath’s leading disciples in the US. Gopalnath is the main guy who has translated Carnatic classical music onto the sax in India. Radhakrishnan has a strong jazz as well as Carnatic background. This CD features a trio of saxophone, bass and drums playing Carnatic inspired compositions in a jazz setting. I like the compositions and enjoy hearing the way Radhakrishnan employs Carnatic ornamentation in his jazz solos.
8. As Wide As The Sky (Gorman, 2007)
Nearly every day I hear 2 or 3 sruthi boxes being tuned up, slowly making their way from one chord through fascinating points of dissonance and finally coming back to silence around beer o’clock. That’s my husband Tony Gorman’s antique sruthi boxes, as heard on this duo recording with Bobby Singh, made in the shop at Birdland. I love the depth of the clarinet tone, the slow moving changes to the sruthis, the way these changes affect the perception of pitch, and the freedom and absolute mastery of the tabla playing. (Disclaimer: Tony didn’t pay me to include him, but he does cook very well and I am hungry!)
9. Raga Bop Trio (Raga Bop Trio, 2010)
This is the first CD from this group with Steve Smith, George Brooks and Prasanna. I admire guitarist Prasanna’s playing. He is another of a new breed of musician, like Radhakrishnan, who can speak jazz and Carnatic with a high degree of fluency, no mean feat.
10. Saturday Night in Bombay (DVD)(Remember Shakti, 2001)
The joyous sounds of Shakti came into my world as a teenager thanks to one of my guitar-playing cousins who headed off to India in the 1970s to learn sarod, inspired by George Harrison. This DVD of Remember Shakti from a later period has a great cast of Indian musicians including U. Shrinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, V. Selvaganesh, Zakir Hussain and Shiv Kumar Sharma. I love watching the playful interaction and spontaneous communication between the musicians. (One slight problem with the DVD is that the composition credit for the first song is given to Shrinivas whereas it’s a famous Carnatic classical composition Girirajasuta Tanaya composed by Saint Tyagaraja. Tyagaraja died in 1847 so I don’t suppose he’s going to sue them!)
I came across this link recently. It includes VidyA among several other relevant projects. It’s nice to see someone with such a deep interest in this niche of music.