7 May 2009

Subcontinental citizens

Citizens of Earth played at the Gods this week and it was a very different, very worldly set of sounds that we heard. CoE present a fusion crossover of Indian and jazz sounds: the complex flowing hand-drum rhythms of the tablas, the strangely-structured scales (for my ears) of Indian classical vocals and the floating sound of the sitar merged with Western alto clarinet (itself none too common), saxes, bass and drums. I was intrigued and enchanted, especially by the Indian classical music that got a few outings. Friends with some experience in this art had talked of its complexities and richness. We’ve all heard some and perhaps not taken too much notice, but the strangely spaced scales of the voice, its parallel in the sitar, and the richness of the tablas rhythms had me following every note. You could hear and sing the rhythms and patterns of tabla as his finger and hands pounded with all manner of taps and hits. You could feel the guitar-like nature of the sitar as he tuned up, but the intervals were other-wordly (or other-cultural). And the voice subsumed this all, with those odd scales and trill-like inflections. There was one solo where drums and tablas swapped passages, and I found myself stunned by the comparative richness of the tablas: they seemed to speak gently and truly, where the drums were similarly busy and expressive but relatively inelegant. Not the drumming itself, which was very capable, but the Western instrument was by nature less intimate: perhaps more swinging but less sensual (there must be a drummer joke in here somewhere). There was some good, steady bass, and a nicely simple but perfectly intoned solo that ended with chuckles after a lengthy faster passage. There were two woodwinds, Sandy on soprano or tenor sax, and Tony on alto clarinet. They were different tones, but I felt a similar approach in their solos: intellectual, diatonically exploratory, solid, uncompromising, although Tony did verge on emotive squeals in a duo he led. The tunes were mostly by members of the band with a few non-originals, but all were clearly in an Indo-fusion or -classical style. There were memories to me of John McLaughlin’s Shakti era, and someone else mentioned George Harrison and Revolver (presumably for the sitar tones; the Beatles wrote some tunes with slightly odd intervals but nothing so sophisticated or damn fast). There were lots of devilishly fast and complex and interrupted melodies played in unison by several instruments and voice and drums, with those modulating tabla rhythms underlying it all. The tabla, with grooves that were obviously Indian but perfectly understandable (for this read countable, and eminently singable, “dug dugga-dugga dugga-dugga dug”) to Westerners, less foreign than the intervals and scales. I noticed finger snaps that sat on 1-3 in place of a jazz 2-4, but the rhythm made sense to me. So my impression was of a wonderfully rich experience, some good crossover, but especially a memorable exposure to another set of artistic sensibilities in the Indian classical tradition. Much enjoyed and will be well remembered.

Sandy Evans (soprano, tenor saxophones) led Citizens of Earth with Sarangan Sriranganathan (sitar, vocals), Tony Gorman (clarinet), Ben Walsh (percussion), Bobby Singh (tabla) and Steve Elphick (bass).

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