Gigs, dance, art

November 2nd, 2009: Miles from India

@cité de la musique

At first I didn’t want to go to this concert because the concept — mixing Miles Davis and Indian music — didn’t look promising; too likely to end up being some world music crap that either blurs both or ends up with both sides ignoring each other. What made me change my mind is that Rudresh Mahanthappa was part of the project, and I like this musician for some reason; he’s of the fast school, but I end up liking his music anyway. And his wit was again on display when he remarked he was introducing the others because he was the only one who was able to pronounce all their names.

And that was some work because there were twelve of them on stage. Besides Mahanthappa, a few stood out for me. Nicholas Payton was really impressive despite the not-so-ideal situation of standing in for Miles Davis. He didn’t play too much, always on point, and even got into a short sequence of dialogue with an Indian musician which was one of my favorite moments. Not much maybe, but this type of exchange where one puts out a phrase then the other plays it again on an unrelated instrument is one of the things in Indian music that I thought could me interesting in that setting, and even though it was short and its only instance crossing cultures, it was nice. But on his own Payton did very well and managed to be faithful to the music while putting his own personal stamp on it. I’d really like to hear him again on his own terms.

I’m definitely partial to having two drummers on stage — see Dirtbombs, the — and I really liked the different yet complementary styles of Ndugu Chancler and Vince Wilburn. Especially the former, who pulled off a drums solo I actually liked, using bits from what had just been played on mridangam then morphing into more western jazz stuff. For me, it wasn’t as much about the technique as the understanding of what had just taken place. He managed to do a solo where his listening ability was prominent, and that kind of feat instantly puts him of my list of interesting performers. The bad side of this is that for some reason drummers are rarely if ever advertised so it’s not that easy to know when one I like is playing in the area.

V K Raman was quite impressive on flute, in part for his listening ability and for being the Indian musician best able to fit in with the music. He had a few solo bits but he consistently brought something whenever he got involved. Maybe his instrument helped because it wasn’t as drowned out as the tabla and mridangam, but still, what he was doing made sense and I think he proved to be listening when he went switching flute and playing just a short phrase with each in sequence, and each time the tone change did bring something.

U. Shrinivas had a beautiful solo sequence, but unfortunately he was often drowned out during the show. Not always though, and the little I could grab was quite good, and that made it all the more frustrating that there were times when I could see he was playing but couldn’t hear what he was doing. Another one I’d like to hear as a leader.

That’s been a lot of talk about individual performances, and in a sense that’s the limitation of the show. There were times when it all came together, especially during the longest tunes from the In a silent way / Bitches brew years, and those were really good ones. But there were also not so convincing solo performances, and some “Indians only” sequences that were a bit telling in my opinion about the project itself. I’d say the Indian musicians didn’t bring much as Indians, they did so as musicians, which is the way it should be. But then they had to put in sequences of “real” Indian music, where the Americans would just walk off and that felt like a somewhat sad excuse. It didn’t work at all for me at least. As far as I’m concerned, V K Raman alone was more than enough to make the project worth it, and I felt those short bits made justice to neither American nor Indian music. Just  mix them a little bit louder when everyone’s playing together, because those excerpts are not compensating for having to strain to hear the tabla, mridangam and mandolin throughout the show.

Trust your stuff a little more, if the Indian musicians really need to have some designated time set aside for them to contribute, that means the whole concept is a failure. I don’t think it is.


November 6, 2009 - Posted by | Music | , , ,

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