If Day to Day, Sarathy Korwar's dazzling debut album for Ninja Tune, proves anything, it's that sacred Indian folk music, astral-gazing electronica, and 21st century modal jazz were made for one another. Korwar is a composer, percussionist, and producer. He was born in the U.S., raised in India, and is now based in London. This recording is the result of a Steve Reid Foundation grant. Korwar traveled to Southern India, where he field recorded the chants and rhythms of the the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur in rural Gujarat. The Sidis descend from the African Bantu. They began arriving in India during the seventh century as sailors, merchants, and slaves. Their music comes directly from oral tradition; they often sing in Swahili, a tongue they do not understand. Faith bridges articulation and conviction. Korwar captured the sounds of Sidi singers, percussionists, and Mlunga bow to use as Day to Day's bedrock, then entered a studio in Pune for five days with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, keyboardist Al MacSween, Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, and bassist Dominico Angarano. Korwar plays drums, tablas, and electronics.
On "Bismillah," ambient electronics, hand drums, a mournful tenor, and sparkling Rhodes wind around a prayerful chant before bubbling Afro-Indian basslines, percussion layers, and trance-like guitars groove. The electric piano becomes more insistent before Hutchings solos to burn it all in. "Dreaming" commences as nocturnal Indian blues with desert guitar and sarod drones atop a lone tabla and effects. The percussion gets multi-tracked, and snippets of chants, prayers, conversation, and a Mlunga bow all establish a center before it fades to ether. "Indefinite Leave to Remain" uses a series of interlocking minimalist counterpoint piano vamps as "melody." A trancelike quality is established when a trap kit, funky jazz bass, and slightly dissonant guitar surround sampled vocal fragments with an increasing dynamic and tempo. The classical Indian improvisational interplay between acoustic guitar and upright bass on "Karam" might have been an end in itself, but the tune spirals to include glistening modal piano, Mlunga, tabla, and cymbals behind a Sidi wail of prayer. The set closes with "Mawra (Transcendence)." Rumbling tom-toms and reverb and bleating voices come from underneath like an improvisation. Hutchings' horn creates a pulsing rhythm in dialogue with Korwar's clattering sticks on the drum kit frame. His tenor horn wails with a vocal quality above both, then fades before re-emerging with a thudding bassline as a companion. The track becomes a passionate, spacy, nearly martial post-Coltrane jam, but never relinquishes the circular rhythm at its center.
Day to Day is dazzling. It leads the listener outside standard jazz/world fusion tropes to ask new questions about musical and cultural origins, traditions, and lineage and it does so with grooves and mystery intact. It embraces the unknown at the heart level, offering a musical language that doesn't recombine ancient traditions for the West, but as part of a human conversation that cements an argument for more, not less, transculturalism in art and society. Brilliant.