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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 6 March 2008

A “Tinged” World: Improvisation without Borders

by Paul Serralheiro / March 2, 2008

While the mix of world musics and jazz has been frequently attributed to outside-the-box players like Don Cherry, the hybrid principle is as old as jazz itself. Buddy Bolden distinguished himself by playing African-inflected melodies on the cornet, a European instrument used for marches. Jelly Roll Morton emphasized the “Spanish tinge” as a necessary “seasoning” for his music. The hybrid principle is also observable in later developments such as the orientalism of tunes like “Caravan”, “A Night in Tunisia”, and many Wayne Shorter compositions. Three recent CD releases show that jazz – now in its second century – is more receptive than ever to such mixes.

Adam Rudolph, a musician who has been interested in world music even before there was such a category, has released an appealing project in this vein (Moving Pictures: Dream Garden Justin Time JTR 8537-2, MMMMMP). The Chicago-born percussionist with roots in blues and jazz is joined on this release by an impressive cohort of eclectic musicians. They include his childhood friend and fellow percussionist Hamid Drake (who credits Rudolph as one of his prime influences,) Brahim Fribgane, Graham Haynes, Kenny Wessel, Ned Rothenberg, Shanir Blumenkrantz and Steve Gorn. These musicians explore the traditions of their respective instruments (oud, cornet, guitar, reeds, bass, shakuhachi and bansuri flutes, and a panoply of other Middle Eastern and African instruments) and in the process add timbral colour and textures to compositions that range from meditative to celebratory.

Similarly adventurous is the Shruti Project (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 173 CD, MMMMPP) which combines the efforts of two Canadians: Indian-born Ganesh Anandan and John Gzowski. Anandan studied the Karnatic music of Southern India, explored Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, and played in Gamelan ensembles. He’s also studied a number of instruments of other ethnic origins, such as the Celtic bodhrán. For over a decade, he has devoted himself to combining his varied influences into a personal style. Gzowski, for his part, is a composer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar and oud primarily) who enjoys making his own instruments and experimenting with non-standard tunings. It is this last concept which united the two to explore the Indian 22-toned Shruti scale on hybrid instruments of their devising. The effect is an intriguing 75-minute exploration of strikingly fresh sounds, with textures and microtonal melodies played on a “19-tone guitar”, a 12-string Shruti Stick and a variety of percussion instruments.

While David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana project (Tzadik TZ8121, MMMMPP) sounds at times like terrain already covered by Dave Douglas and others, Buchbinder’s fusion of Spanish-influenced and Jewish-tinged music rings true to the two traditions while having them work in organic juxtaposition. A founding member of the Flying Bulgar Klezmer band, Buchbinder is no stranger to mixing jazz and Jewish music. Here he has recruited fellow Toronto musicians Hilario Duran (piano), Dafnis Prieto and Mark Kelso (drums), Roberto Occhipinti (bass), Aleksander Gajic (violin), Quinsin Nachoff (reeds) and Rick Shadrash Lazar (percussion), all of whom have worked in world music contexts. On his CD’s website, the leader sums up the nature of this project best: “Odessa/Havana is […] emblematic of what might be termed post-multicultural creation, something that is increasingly happening […] as mature musicians from diverse musical and cultural backgrounds meet, collaborate and create new sounds that transcend countries and cultures of origin.”

(c) La Scena Musicale