Music Review: Miles… From India (Various Artists)

Information about the Album: here

Cross-posted on EpicIndia

The beauty of this album (earlier reviewed by Richard Marcus on EpicIndia) does not lie just in its adherence to Miles’ definition of jazz, but in the effortless blending with Indian Classical. And that’s why- first things first – It comes highly recommended.

I would not waste a lot breath over talking about the ensemble quality of the artists on the disc. Each of them a true master of music, adding to the mix a certain versatility that probably them themselves forget while adhering to the rules, MFI is unique in the way that several critiques would find it difficult to call it fusion. Many others would find it difficult to call it jazz. And barely a few would even venture to suggest that its Indian Classical Music. The interesting thing to note here is that this union of two musical definitions does not require either of them to be the dominant one.

The idea of the album came about as Bob Belden thought about blending two pure music genres while paying a tribute to Miles Davis, one of the finest exponents of Jazz in the previous century. Lets consider for a moment the origins of jazz itself, the influences of so many countries and so many eras, and the fact that it has survived. The evolution of gospel and ragtime into jazz, and later swing, bebop, etc. being a fascinating story for jazz lovers all the same, this album pays homage to the post-depression era jazz.

Moving to the album, it’s a set of 2 discs that I previewed in the MP3 format with due permissions through EpicIndia. Both the discs have 6 compositions uniquely different from each other.

Instead of getting into a track by track review of whats in store for the listeners, it suffices to say that almost all the compositions blend between Indian classical and jazz using a mix of multiple instruments (Sitar, Tabla, Saxophone, Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar, Violin) with each instrument being used not just for the genre where it comes from, but also to do something that its usually not expected to do. Imagine the chaotic harmony of jazz on a sitar and the aaroh-avaroh of Indian classical on electric guitar. That’s what this album is all about, as it recreates Milesian magic through his compositions.
Accroding to me, the pick of the lot are Ife, Spanish Key and All Blues from disc 1, and Blue in Green, and Miles from India from Disc 2. This by no way implies anything negative against the other tracks, all of which are wonderful in their own rendition.

While Spanish Key starts in a standard Milesian way with rich use of saxophone and piano, involving tabla, Hindustani vocals to reach its crescendo, In a silent way is a short composition based solely on Sarod.

All Blues starts with the sitar and can be a perfect appetizer for someone who hasn’t listened to a lot of jazz before this, but is an avid Hindustani Classical follower, as this composition shows how the language of music can be moulded to accommodate everyone. It’s a great composition to learn from, if you are a learner of music, because it does complete justice to the subtleties of sounds from all the instruments used.

In a silent way is a very small jazz rendition on Sarod. Its slow, deliberate and so blended with Indian classical, that for the undiscerning listener, it just comes across as a sweet simple symphony, devoid of borders created by those who love definitions.

Ife (both fast and slow) was recorded in two versions keeping in mind that only one of the versions will be incorporated in the final CD. However, once you hear the discs, you realize why the team was not able to let go of any of the two versions. My personal choice would be the faster version given the heady mix it creates.

Jean Pierre is a composition that starts off with a haunting flute arrangement, but soon evolves into a melody that may get copied by a bollywood music director quite soon.

So-what breaks the trend, and starts in a Carnatic music style and blends itself into jazz. It uses the blend o f organ with Ghatam.

Miles runs the voodoo down cannot be categorized in any way. It’s a sound that’s closer to the ragtime era, but such was the genius of Miles. However, this song is the only one in the entire collection, where at times the blending does seem a little off.

Blues in Green has a great use of backing vocals from Shankar Mahadevan. I might sound a little biased with this, but in this album, the use of vocals enriches the sound of the same music to my ears.. The composition keeps at the molten level, flowing with the moment. An additional reinforcement in this song comes through the use of Sarangi by Pt. Ram Narayan.

Great Expectations is a vintage jazz composition which uses both traditional and Indian instruments to create the required effect. Watch out for the slowed tempo and melody towards the middle section of the song which further accentuates the beauty of this composition.

Finally, Miles from India, starts off as a piano based harmony using backing vocals rich in Hindustani, and is another slow and deliberate composition from the composer Bob Belden. A very Indian way of ending a musical concert, where the raags are gradually built over a period of time through subtle variations, and as the music reaches its crescendo, it’s the point where the musician is connected to the good. Finally, to conclude the concert, the musician detaches himself/herself from the divinity yet pleasing the gods through a simple and modest harmony, to come back to the lower world.

One of the biggest things about this compilation is that despite the use of multiple instruments and platforms, and this being an arrangement of performances across several recordings, which were finally molded together in a composition, there is not a point where you can feel that an instrument or a genre is trying to dominate another. This is MUSIC – a perfectly harmonious ensemble of sounds that lets you isolate yourself from the surrounding. From my side, it gets a thumbs-up with strong recommendations.
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Roundup…. No Title

Haven’t been blogging for a while, as the seasonal lethargy takes over. I can’t really blame it on anything else. Anyway, just a roundup of things/people/songs of note –

1. Television – I am in love with the 2 singing competitions on telly these days, Zee Saregamapa 2007 Challenge – Sangeet ka Pratham Vishwayud and Amul Star Voice of India. SVOI is going through a dramatic phase with Gajendra Chauhan ( the pioneer of such singing talent hunt shows) getting confused with his self created frankenstein. However, the singers to watch out for are Toshi Sabri (brought back into SVOI by popular demand, after being ejected on the basis of public voting), Harshit (SVOI), Amaanat Ali (SRGMP, an amazing voice from Pakistan) and Raja Hassan(SRGMP). Raja has the rusticness and purity in his voice, Toshi is probably the best trained and a sufi-genre singer. Harshit will make an awesome playback singer while Amanat probably is the most versatile of the lot, and will surely make a great ghazal singer if given a chance. His rendition of “Tujhse Naaraz Nahi Zindagi” yesterday (6th Oct) was plain simple awesome. The idea behind this long para on these people is to remind you guys that for every Dhoni who came out of Jharkhand, there are several who join Tata Steel on a small stipend! Please support, encourage and look out for these raw talents in the years to come. You can see the videos online here – SRGMP, SVOI

2. Music – 1. Main Agar Kahoon (Om Shanti Om) – beautiful romantic song with a very simple melody and another proof of how good Sonu Nigam is. Especially, when it comes to romantic songs, there are few who are as good. His voice has a certain yearning that others don’t
b. Yoon Shabnami from Saawariya  sung by Parthiv Gohil. A lot of you won’t even know who Parthiv Gohil is. Parthiv is the lost find of 1998 Saregama MegaFinal (youtube videos) (the year Sonu was still hosting the show,  Sanjeevani – another finalist, got a few movies as playback singers (such as Kareeb), and there were some truly amazing singers like Mohd. Vakil, Bela, Mukund and Sudeshna). An year or two after 1998 Shreya Ghoshal became the winner of Saregama. Anyway, Paarthiv had a very strong classical learning background and his rendition of songs like Ketak Gulab Juhi, and Dhanyabhaag Seva ka Awsar Paaya back in 1998 were wonderful. So, Bhansali has given Parthiv a break, along with Monty (the music director, who played some part in the background score of Devdas)
c. Songs from Manorama – 6 feet under.  From a collection of 4 songs (excluding remixes and versions), 3 belong to the category of very good to excellent. Woh Bheege Pal, Dhundhla jo sama bandha, Tere Sawalon Ke.. Try them out.

3. Movie – Johnny Gaddar is definitely my pick from bollywood. Bourne Ultimatum would be the hollywood pick. Johnny G is a wonderful movie which takes you back to the 70s thrillers where things just kept happening all through the movie. Director’s tribute to Vijay Anand and James Hadley Chase is visible throughout the movie. The movie could have been shortened by 15 minutes or so. But, but… its a wonderful movie to see on a weekend.

4. Books – Reading “Of Love and Other Demons” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez right now. Seems good so far, while being standard Marquez narration. Will update later.

However, just in case you got a feeling that this is what is keeping me busy.. Naah!  How many of you out there have lived out of a suitcase to get a house renovated. Working your butt off five days a week to reach home on a weekend (travelling usually in the middle of night both ways) to deal with tiles, cement, paints, designs and woodwork! Ugh.. its not easy!

Btw.. quick emotional outburst – Raikonnen has taken the pole. Hamilton has to wait. Vettel seems a driver to keep an eye on. The last couple of races are going to be amazingly interesting! 😀

One of the finest renditions of our National Anthem

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