Burman leads his friends in evening of hybrid exploration
by Aaron Cohen
player Sandip Burman introduced his band at Ravinia's Martin
Theater on Monday night, he suggested that Indian music could
be an ideal fit with jazz. He said his piece "East Meets
Jazz" (also the program title) shares a rhythmic structure
with common jazz time. When the other members of his sextet responded
to his concept with their instruments, their groove illuminated
his words. Throughout much of the concert, the group strove to
recapture that ideal.
hybrid stands apart from what's generally considered mainstream
jazz, the mixture has notable precedents. Duke Ellington looked
toward Asia for inspiration on "Far East Suite," and
Indian music fascinated saxophonist John Coltrane. Miles Davis
also used tablas. Recently, guitarist John McLaughlin has revisited
his 1970's jazz/traditional Indian band, Shakti.
quite aware of this lineage, as was his violinist on Monday night,
Jerry Goodman, who once worked in McLaughlin's Mahavishnu
Orchestra. Although the other members of the group are not
as closely linked to this continuum, their manifold experiences
across jazz and pop realms were reflected in the open-mined enthusiasm
they brought to this percussionist's undertaking. After watching
Burman perform, it's easy to see why his colleagues don't mind
learning the Indian ragas that are the basis for his melodies.
He has an infectious smile and leads with quick head and neck
movements, rapidly delivered spoken staccato phrases and his own
impeccable technique. A duo between Burman and Howard Levy
on piano was filled with all sorts of surprising tempo shifts.
Along with drummer Steve Smith and bassist Victor Bailey,
the group featured a dynamic rhythm section, which made Goodman
sound particularly impressive.
held his own among the percussionists and seemed to build his
own rich tone off of their drive. He also blended especially well
with saxophonist David Pietro as he added European classical
passage was when Burman and Smith followed a duo between Pietro
and Levy. Everything about the transition into a group performance
flowed with the right amount of subtlety. Without drawing on any
polyrhythmic tricks, Burman quietly quickened the tempo and created
his sought-after balance between jazz harmonies and Indian rhythms.
the concert, Levy's lengthy harmonica lines seemed strained. He
does bring sounds out of the instrument that nobody else has even
attempted. The problem is that his onslaught seems to lack direction.
A few other
solo interludes just got weird. Smith took a turn playing a few
unaccompanied numbers on different parts of his kit. Although
brevity kept it from becoming too self-indulgent, the performance
seemed more about spectacle than music. Bailey also sang over
his own bass solo with a voice that could charitably be described
as limited. At least the lyrics were funny.