RAJESH MEHTA / ROHAN DE SARAM / TRICHY SANKARAN:
INNOVATIVE MUSIC MEETING
A co-production with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, presents an encounter of three musical free-spirits from the U.S., Canada and England, all with roots in the Indian subcontinent: the Berlin-based trumpet-innovator Rajesh Mehta, master South-Indian percussionist Trichy Sankaran, and cellist Rohan de Saram, well-known for his work with the Arditti String Quartet. An hour of filigree, highly concentrated music beyond any idiomatic borders.
Complexity in Diversity: Rajesh Mehta's multicultural strategies
Exoticism is an infallible strategy these days. A trumpet player born in Calcutta, raised in the United States, relocated to Europe? Such a musician is the dream of contemporary multicultural festival organisers. Yes, Rajesh Mehta has played at many of these festivals.
But he has always resisted the easiest of options: playing the Indian card, brewing some foolproof mixture of Indian rhythms, trademark tabla timbres and vaguely exotic-sounding trumpet solos - perhaps 'graced' with some programmed dance beats to make the 'product' more palatable. Mehta, who left Calcutta at the age of six, has never denied his Indian heritage, has never attempted to be a straight jazz player or a composer in the Western sense. But he is aware of the fact that to do justice to his heritage requires more than...exoticism. "I believe in a relationship between musics and musical elements from various traditions which harness the collective energies of each without blurring rich and complex individual differences", Mehta explains. "The current ideas and experiments with 'fusion' often imply dilution and the reduction to a common denominator: a type of mixing, which in my opinion, weakens the overall expression. If the interest really is in building common languages, a great deal of thought and attention has to be given to how the complexity inherent in diversity can be retained."
Which, first of all, requires that you have an intimate knowledge of the ingredients you are mixing - and a clear understanding of why you should be interested in bringing them together in the first place. Mehta, a North Indian by birth, has immersed himself into the logics of South Indian music extensively. He has studied with Anthony Braxton, has ample experience as a free improvisor and is well versed in the idioms of contemporary composition between Varèse and Lachenmann. So much for point one. And, as far as the relevance of Indian elements for contemporary music is concerned: "Some of my most vital 'inheritances' include: the particularly deep Indian focus on sound for both its sonic and spiritual essence, a continuous rather than a discrete approach to microtonality, and a specific approach to time and rhythmic play (especially in its manifestation in South Indian music).The importance of the improvisational artistry of the individual musician within highly rigorous forms is also a quality that I abstract from Indian music and apply to my own work."
But, then, the "Innovative Music Meeting" with Rohan de Saram and Trichy Sankaran is not Mehta's work alone. Here, we have a meeting of three masters whose main focus has been, respectively, post-jazz improvisation, the interpretation of the most complex manifestations of contemporary composed music and improvisation within the strict cultural framework of the South Indian tradition. So how do you go about bridging the gaps between these highly distinctive traditions? "I´ve always felt that these three traditions had the possibility for mutual enrichment", Mehta points out. "They also happen to be the major influences on my own music. There is already a known affinity between the extended timbral and sonic languages from both the new music and free improvised music traditions, although they occur from different processes, i.e. interpretation of notated works on one hand and the development of musical vocabularies through improvisation on the other. The rhythmic forms of south Indian music are some of the most mathematically sophisticated and 'contemporary' that I know of. What I find especially exciting is the dynamic interplay between these various elements."
Once Mehta had decided on the partners for this unusual project - he had heard Trichy Sankaran in concert with Anthony Braxton, David Rosenboom and Will Winant in 1989 and had long been impressed by the finesse of the Arditti String Quartet, of which Rohan de Saram is a founding member -, the question remained how this "dynamic interplay" should be organized. Notated material? Graphic scores? Verbal instructions? In the end, Mehta decided to trust the moment. "We played together without rehearsals for the first time while recording in the studio itself", Mehta recalls. "I felt that this spontaneous musical meeting would also demonstrate the musical characters, language and formal possibilities that would be the richest for us to pursue in the future as a group.
This particular CD consists of entirely improvised music. The sensitivity and experience of Rohan and Trichy made them great partners for such a session, so it's difficult for me to generalize about the possibilities of bridging the gaps of the aforementioned musical traditions. I also don´t think anyone of the three of us falls squarely into only one of these traditions. Our common experiences provided the 'glue' for this project. All three of us have roots in the Indian sub-continent; Rohan´s in Sri Lanka, Trichy´s in South India and mine in North India; all three of us have lived for most of our lives outside of this subcontinent (England, Canada, and the U.S. respectively), and we have all been actively involved with the search and re-search for new musical ways and forms with a deep belief in the art of improvisation." The results of this brief, but intensive encounter show that Mehta's trust in the truth of the moment has paid off. No obvious Indian clichés here, but an interplay of extraordinary subtleness, sensitivity and focus that transcends any pre-fixed category. No wonder Mehta refers to this encounter as "one of the most rewarding experiences of my musical career...that elusive but palpable element, 'spirit', graced the personal rapport and the music-making process as well."
Peter Niklas Wilson, April 2000
Recorded at Traumton Studios, Berlin on Dec. 5, 1999 by Otto Schönthaler, assisted by Ulrich Maiß Mix and Mastering at True Muze Studio, Hamburg, May 2000 by Vlatko Kucan.
A co-production between True Muze Records and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt within the project Heimat Kunst, supported by Hauptstadt Kulturfonds.
Project Manager: Johannes Odenthal Project Assistant: Annette Ramershoven CD-Project preparation: Gabriele Stiller-Kern Innovative Music Meeting Produced by Rajesh Mehta