Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Great Year For Indian Jazz And Fusion Records

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Great Year For Indian Jazz And Fusion Records

The best news is that of Indo-fusion band Shakti being nominated for Grammy Awards

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Saturday, December 09, 2023, 10:36 PM IST
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Shakti |

It’s been a fabulous year for Indian musicians recording jazz and fusion albums. The announcement of the Grammy nominations on November 10 was one landmark. Indo-fusion band Shakti, which includes founding members John McLaughlin on guitar and Zakir Hussain on tabla, was nominated in the Best Global Music Album category for the album This Moment. Zakir also featured in the world music album As We Speak, nominated in three categories along with banjo player Bela Fleck, bassist Edgar Meyer and Mumbai flautist Rakesh Chaurasia.

Shakti, which also has vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan and kanjira genius V. Selvaganesh, has clearly changed its sound from its 1970s albums, with vocals now playing a dominant role.

Let’s look at some recordings (the list does not include folk-fusion and fusion-rock, which have a different sound altogether). The year began with the self-titled album of Mamogi, comprising saxophonist Mark Hartsuch, bassist Mohini Dey and drummer Gino Banks. A wonderful blend of jazz, progressive rock and electronic music, it had some great improvisation on tracks like Harmonic Embrace, Crack Drill and Itsy Bitsy.

Of the Mamogi trio, Mohini released her own self-titled album in August. A blend of jazz, funk, rhythm n’ blues and rock, it features luminaries like drummers Narada Michael Walden, Marco Minnemann and Simon Phillips, guitarists Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, and keyboardists Jordan Rudess and Scott Kinsey. In another collaboration, saxophonist Mark Hartsuch joined drummer Darshan Doshi on the duet EP Better Than Sax.

Indrajit Sharma, aka Tubby, teamed up with hugely talented guests on Pitara. The musicians include vocalists Varijashree and Jatin Darji, flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, sitar player Ravi Chary, Lakshmikant Sharma on mandolin, Tanmay Deochake on harmonium and Prakash Sontakke on electro Hawaiian guitar, besides bassist Sheldon D’Silva and drummer Gino. From the line-up, it’s obvious that this album has plenty of variety.

One of the most innovative works is Kolkata band Bodhisattva Trio’s Frontier, a collaboration with the Mimika Orchestra of Croatia. The trio comprises Bodhisattva Ghosh on guitar, Arunava Chatterjee on keyboards and synth bass, and Premjit Datta on drums, with Mak Murtic leading the orchestra. It is an instrumental concept album with a science fiction theme, and can be seen as an interaction between three astronauts (the trio) and the forces of the universe (the orchestra).

In the world music space, one has to check out the album Odyssey, where musicians from four countries got together in Sri Lanka before the Pandemic and created some eclectic tunes. They were Spanish vocalist Alba Santos (who sings in Portuguese and English), Indian pianist Anurag Naidu, Cuban bassist Aniel Someillan and Brazilian drummer-percussionist Isaias Alves.

That brings us to Indo-jazz fusion. Violinist sisters Ragini Shankar and Nandini Shankar formed the duo Taraana and released their self-titled album on Decca Records. The 11-track album has plenty of variety, with tunes inspired by the Himalayas, Irish melodies, Spanish music and even a retro film sound on one piece. Other albums in this segment are Classicool, fronted by sitar exponent Purbayan Chatterjee and fusing Hindustani classical melodies with contemporary arrangements, and the Indica Project’s Aum, where musicians Storms and D. Wood blend south Indian devotional music with electric guitar, bass and drums.

In all probability, one will hear many more great records next year. One is looking forward to The Indian Sky by Delhi-based jazz-funk band Syncopation, led by guitarist-composer Risshi S. Sachdeva. If the first single Around My House is any indication, the rest of the album is worth looking forward to. There will be others too, offering exciting bursts of creative, improvisatory genius.

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