Deepak Ram

Searching for Satyam

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Combining jazz and Indian music is hardly a new idea; when John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Yusef Lateef first showed us the possibilities of modal jazz back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Indian and Arabic/Middle Eastern music were a major source of inspiration. Trane and Lateef were fascinated with the type of modal playing that had characterized Middle Eastern, Indian, North African, and Greek music for centuries, and they proved that modality could easily be relevant to jazz improvisation. So you can't honestly say that jazz-Indian fusion is something new in the 21st century, but you can definitely say that it still has a lot of possibilities. Deepak Ram shows us some of those possibilities on Searching for Satyam, a 2000 release that fuses North Indian music with elements of jazz, pop, and funk. This instrumental CD is a long way from hard bop or straight-ahead jazz; Ram, who plays an Indian bamboo flute known as the bansuri, favors an East-West hybrid that tends to be tranquil and gently introspective, yet mildly funky. Ram's outlook is very multicultural; he grew up in South Africa and ventured to India at 17 to study traditional North Indian music before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. So, not surprisingly, he has a wide variety of influences, and his blend of Indian and Western instruments always sounds organic and natural instead of forced. On probing pieces like "Upon a White Lotus" and "Tandav," Ram's bansuri and the Indian tabla drums of Partha Sarathi Mukherjee sound perfectly natural alongside Eduardo Niebla's acoustic guitar and Achim Tang's acoustic or electric bass. Obviously, these musicians believe in using their instruments in an expansive fashion -- just as Ram sees no reason why one cannot bring jazz or funk elements to the bansuri, Niebla has no problem bringing Indian and Middle Eastern ideas to a western guitar. At times, Niebla plays his guitar as if it were an Arabic oud, a Turkish saz, or a South Indian vina. Ram and his sidemen keep their options open, and the end result is a rewarding and chance-taking CD.

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