Many Ways

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To paraphrase a renowned Aerosmith song, "Gotta Love that "Sweet Taste of India" -- or at least the way the country's indigenous music is compatible with American jazz fusion, as this unique collection by the ensemble KCP 5 displays. KCP is the acronym for the Karnataka College of Percussion, where vocalist R.A. Ramamani and percussionist T.A.S. Mani were training when they met percussionist Ramesh Shotham in Banglore and launched the Indo-Jazz group Sangam. The band's success culminated in a performance at the 1983 Berlin Jazz Festival with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, who had once traveled to India to study native instruments. Since that time, the musicians -- who later teamed with keyboardist Mike Herting -- have shared a long and fruitful relationship. The frenetic vocal on the opening title track -- which darts over cool sitar ambience and indigenous percussion -- will best be enjoyed by fans of hardcore Indian music; most of the rest of these tracks are a little more accessible to jazz (and even pop) fans, beginning with the melodic, midtempo, and bluesy "Lazy Days." Ramamani's soaring vocals wail away, then scat like mad on "Jayam," which runs over ten minutes like its follow-up, "Arun," which features the singer's ethnic vocal oddities over a gentle piano before it heats up into a clapalong. Mariano's graceful sax is the featured lead on the slightly more conventional jazz ballads "Balaji" and "Varnum," which bring a gentle grace to the overall eclectic mix. The listener's enjoyment of Many Ways depends on his or her reaction to Ramamani's ongoing vocal presence, which is beautiful in spots but gets overbearing after a while.

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