Why Indian Music?

(originally written Sept 2008)

I'm often asked, "why Indian music?" Sometimes the question is put in a more probing manner, such as "why do you think you can do this?"

I'll try to address some musical and philosophical aspects on those issues in this post.

In the late 90s I had some nice solo opportunities in Europe based on work using the most abstract modern free jazz and improv techniques within a springboard of *very* traditional flamenco ( pre-Paco, and really pre-soloist - my favorite flamenco players are the early cante accompanists). Very, very disparate traditions, yet the lynchpins I heard connecting them were musical occurrences such as a certain dissonance in the harmonic voicings; the fluidity of tempo; the immense degree of subtle improvisational interplay between guitarist and singer. I was hearing a lot of connective tissue between the two, not parallel bundles but interesting, flexible hinges, joints, angles, sinews, tendons. I started working with that and then took that idea a bit further, trying to liberate the material from a metric confinement while still keeping rhythm and drive very much a part of it. That distinction between meter and time and rhythm -- all distinct elements in my book -- had been done a lot within the free jazz idiom itself, but hadn't really been applied in a flamenco context.

Conceptually, I'm trying to develop a similar methodology to working with Indian musical material; there's a lot of connective tissue I'm hearing here too. On the sarod and tabla it's voiced in a much more subtle and melodic approach, though I think the electric instrumentation we're exploring will in some ways call for a return to some of my earlier rigour and more overt abstractness (but I think we'll maintain the lyricism of the acoustic setting as well).

Its very nice to be absorbed in the fretless electric, discovering what it can do as a tool to link the methodologies in avant free improv and Indian music.

Thats a long way of saying that I don't think musical fusions have to be terribly closely related to be successful; it may be helpful, but I think the exploration can be quite fertile by looking at where and how things *connect* (and how different musics approach their detail and methodology in developing improvisation -- that improvisational aspect, then as now, is key --), in addition to looking at what parallel streams of commonality there are. Anchor the connecting elements, celebrate the differences. Unity in diversity ( a parallel Sufi concept also).

For me, it's not about trying to be an Indian Classical Musician. I love it, respect it immensely, learn it, learn from it -- but I'm not an ICM, won't ever be, and in truth, it wouldn't interest me musically to completely go that path. I also respect it too much to pretend to do it.

What drives me, what interests me is how this music merges into what I already am.

Somehow, what I'm sensing just as a person and also what I'm hearing musically calls for a certain kind of cultural articulation to complete it. That cultural articulation isn't just limited to the music, either, as I'm driven to be engrossed in many aspects of it - learning the languages (Hindi and Bengali), cooking, absorbing dance, film, reading history and current trends, etc, etc. There's so much more I need to immerse in still, to make the music work, to better integrate myself as a being, I feel. But this is the life process.

And yet, while somehow I'm connected to that culture, that land in this very broad and deep way, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler, Peter Brotzmann, Led Zeppelin are all just as much a part of me and the music I make. To sell either tradition short is dishonest to myself and dishonest to both legacies.

Its my hope that I honor and respect the Indian musical tradition by being *internally* honest with it, folding aspects of it into myself while offering my own traditions to it in return.

I think people sense that, given the feedback we've gotten by people from India and other accomplishments such as the film project.

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