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One World Music - Indo-Jazz Fusion by Charlie and RARE

Kaiser Majid

When the Jazz veteran Charlie Mariano played together with the Ragha and Rhythm Ensemble at Bridgewater State College, the effect was sheer magic.

A fantasy - seeing Billie Holiday singing with Lester Young.
A dream - to hear where the music would have gone if only John Coltrane had lived long enough to continue his explorations with Ravi Shankar....
Sometimes, magic happens - and sometimes, if you are lucky enough, you get to be part of such an experience.

Redemption came in October 2000, in the form of ‘an invitation’ to go see Charlie Mariano and the Karnataka College of Percussion featuring Ramamani and Dr. Krishna Raghavendra performing the world premiere of Sketches of Bangalore with the WDR Big Band in Koln. This was possibly the first time that a Big Band and an Indian ensemble performed together. On the two nights that they performed (the second night was video taped for German TV) to sold out crowds, I was constantly reminded of first record that Shakti (with John McLaughlin ) released, particularly the piece entitled What need have I for this – What need have I for that – I am dancing at the feet of my Lord – All is Bliss – All is Bliss. During those 2 performances, it was as if we were in that state of musical grace – a sense of confluence and oneness.

In a period of over 35 years of watching (Jazz, Blues, Rock, world and classical) concerts – I can honestly say that there have only been a handful of such moments. So, when last month I found out that Charlie was going to be in Boston and was scheduled to perform in a free concert with Dr. Krishna Raghavendra and his ensemble Raga and Rhythm Ensemble (RARE) – I was excited. Dr. Raghavendra (Ragha) is a senior member of the Karnataka College of Percussion (KCP) in Bangalore, the leader of RARE and the founder/Director of Ragha School of Music in Massachusetts. He plays the veena - an ancient classical plucked stringed instrument dating back 3,000 to 4,000 years. "My interest has been to promote Indian music and integrate with other western and non-western forms", says Ragha. "My veena has been custom made, is detachable and has been amplified with pickups". In addition to playing with KCP, Ragha has performed variously at the Berlin Jazz Festival; at the Esplanade for India Day; at numerous Fund raising concerts, e.g. for Cracked Earth – in support of the Gujarat earthquake victims.

As for Charlie Mariano – born in Boston, he has lived this thing called Jazz and ‘world music’. Over a 60 year ‘career’ he has played alto with the giants – the masters of the order of Bop - including Bird (Charlie Parker), Diz (Dizzy Gillespie); Mingus ( to name a few of the high priests). He went and stayed in the East during the 60’s. He learned from the musical traditions and instruments of the Japanese, the Malayasian and the Indians and came back to mold the landscape of the musical West in the 70’s and 80’s. He is an educator, an author - and a master musician. He left America to live in Europe in the 70’s and stays there to this day. Of Charlie, Michael Naura said "He transcends the boundaries between the sounds of different cultural groups as scarcely any other musician in the field or current improvised music."

The concert "One World, One Music" was held at the Bridgewater State College Campus Center Auditorium on May 31st. All compositions in the program were by Ragha (except for one, Bangalore by Charlie) and were based on the traditions of classical Indian music, Folk , Vedic hymns and contemporary music.
The concert opened with Fisherman Song (raga Suddha Dhanyasi), an instantly recognizable folk song showcasing the Indian countryside. The mixed crowd responded to the opening number enthusiastically. The Fisherman’s Song was followed by Dance of Shiva, a contemporary piece with the percussive Rick Morin introducing the tune followed by V.K.Raman on flute, Ragha on the veena and Charlie on alto. The tempo picked up with Anand Iyer driving the ensemble with his mridangam to a cresendo much like the dancing Shiva. Composed in the raga Maya Malava Gowla, Dance of Shiva was set to a 4/4 beat. Both these songs were taken from the recently released CD Rare Pulse with Ragha and RARE. The third song in the first set was Charlie Mariano’s tribute to Bangalore. Bangalore is set in the raga Hemavathi (to Adi Tala - beat of eight). Starting with the haunting and melodic intro from Charlie the crowd was in rapt attention for Ragha, who followed with a virtuoso performance on the veena and was followed by an equally evocative Raman on flute.
By the time Bangalore concludes most in the audience who have not heard Charlie with the KCP or RARE were sold on this confluence of the old and the new –of East and West.
The Great Train Journey ( raga Valachi set to Roopaka Tala – beat of three ) followed Bangalore and immediately evokes the knowing nod of recognition of ‘the iron horse’ in motion – as it slowly picks up speed and flies through the night. It felt like if one closed their eyes one would be transported to the ageless beauty of a distant India with its eternal sights, rhythms and melodies.
When "Across the desert" (raga Vakulabharana set to a beat of eight) started to end the first set; jazz – the art of conversation – it seemed had seamlessly joined in on the alap on the veena reminding us of the sounds of the desert and, Islam and Jewish traditions. The seemingly disparate idioms and influences of the two musical traditions seemed to converge into a cohesive whole.

The second set started with the infectious Rare Pulse. Set in the raga Bheempalas ( beat of eight ) this piece was inspired by Charlie and spans the spectrum from be-bop to hip-hop, from the traditional to the esoteric. The piece build as each ensemble member drove the momentum to its explosive conclusion as the crowd responded with cheers. A spotlight duet with Anand Iyer and world percussionist Rick Morin followed the ovation for Rare Pulse, which then flowed to a duet between Ragha and Charlie to start Lion in the Middle. Taken from the recently released CD The Great Train Journey, Lion is based on raga Simhendra Madyama and set to Roopaka Tala (beat of three). At times Lion evoked sketches of flamenco with multi-instrumentalist George Dussault on guitar and V.K Raman flautist extraordinaire - proving why he is one of the leading exponents of his instrument from South India. Tryst with Destiny concluded the evening’s program. Composed in raga Revathi (beat of four) the composition is based on Vedic chants and goes through a traditional setup and concluded with a contemporary beat. Starting off with Ragha and Raman on exchanges between veena and flute - the ensemble followed with solos by Charlie and the ensemble members before the piece slowed down to its natural conclusion.

What we are witnessing in concerts like these is a tapestry of the world unfolding to us – giving us a glimpse of the musical possibilities that exist, and the shape of things to come. We are at a place and time when neo-bop integrates with the ancient vedic chants, where this is a natural jazz, bop and blues response of the millennia old call of the veena, mridangam and flute. If you missed them look for them; if you have not heard of them or this music look to their collective collections of recorded material – and there is a lot out there, but mostly support them if and when you can because it is pure joy - enjoy.

Original compositions performed were from the CDs "RARE PULSE". "THE GREAT TRAIN JOURNEY" and "BANGALORE". For more information, please visit www.raghasmusic.com or e-mail to ragha@raghasmusic.com or call 508-279-1690.

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