Indo-Jazz Suite

Harriot, Joe Double Quintet

album cover

East Meets West

Oh, those kooky '60s, when the experimental impulse was in the air, and every little ripple in the culture seemed to tell of a new bohemia on the rise. Indo-Jazz Suite is a product of that ethos, a meeting of five European jazz players, three classical Indian musicians, and violinist and composer John Mayer, who was dedicated to the idea that the strict structures and droning, static harmonies of raga can inspire boundary-busting improvisation. Mayer, who moved to Britain from Calcutta in 1952, was inspired by the then-burgeoning jazz scene of his new home. He wrote four ragas that follow (at least in a general way) the scale patterns that underpin traditional Indian music; several of them, including the brisk "Raga Gaud-Saranga," are built on a recur-ring bass line that's a distant cousin of the walking jazz bass. Mayer showed the members of alto saxophonist Joe Harriott's quintet the corresponding scales, and encouraged them to experiment over the pattering rhythms. Harriott, the Jamaican-born conceptualist who was often compared to Ornette Coleman, tyrannizes the placid setting with hissing and wailing post-bebop, while others in his band, particularly trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, dabble in shorter, more furtive bursts. The jazzers are plenty interesting and all, but sitar player Diwan Motihar, who uses conventional Indian ad-lib strategies, is among the most dexterous soloists.

There are astonishing moments here, splashed over rhythms that rock intensely yet maintain an outward air of cool. A summit that's far more sensitive than the usual cross-cultural smashup, Indo-Jazz Suite suggests that Rudyard Kipling was a beat behind when he declared that East was East and West was West and "never the twain shall meet." Here, the distant realms meet, converse, and find utterly hypnotic common ground.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1966, Atlantic (Reissued 1999, Koch)
Key Tracks: "Raga Gaud-Saranga," "Contrasts."
Catalog Choice: Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High
Next Stop: L. Subramaniam: Conversations
After That: Naná Vasconcelos: Saudades
Book Pages: 343–344

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