Conventionally swinging mainstream jazz can actually be found on this set, which is definitely not an example of that ‘World Music’ in which things respective traditions have in common are combined into a product that lacks the distinctive interest those respective traditions had in the first place. Nor is it the mitigated form of that sort of item that retains superficial colorations of the originally separate musics. It’s a very happy co-existence of different traditions working together and each maintaining its own identity.
The one performer who moves from one to the other here is Mike Hertling, who at times uses the flexible capacities of electronic keyboard to subtle effect in blending with the Indian musicians. At other times — and not only on Charlie Mariano’s “17th Cross” — he is straightforwardly (to repeat the phrase) not only a jazz pianist, he is in fact a soloist of real class. I don’t know his work, and while from the notes I see that he also worked with the Karnakata College of Percussion in realizations of their music within arrangements for big band, I take my hat off to him and hope sometime to hear him as a pianist. Nobody could reasonably have expected quite such a high-class contribution on this set.
“17th Cross” is one of two Mariano compositions on a set whose jazz credentials are well granted. He solos well up to the standard expected of him these past fifty and more years, as well as leaving no doubt as to the depth of his comprehension of the Indian music when providing obbligati to the vocalizations of Ramamani, the lady who composed all the other numbers.
She has an attractive voice, though on that last-named track, singing at a lower pitch, she almost sounds a little hoarse. As well as having by ordinary Western standards a nice voice, Ramamani has by any standards an astonishing vocal technique, which an unwary reviewer might carelessly suppose unique. It might be unique, or maybe Ramamani approaches uniqueness in vocal delivery by doing something traditional considerably better than well. Certainly, what she does is rooted in native tradition, like some of the vocalisation in, for instance, Scottish Gaelic music, where the point and purpose of the singular method of vocal production isn’t the delivery of words, but the articulation of rhythms and transitions between notes. Both saxophonists and singers know how hard it can be to sing certain sequences of notes at all, managing tricky intervals, let alone with grace and expression. A further amazement of Ramamani’s performances is the rapidity with which she can articulate notes, in the cause also of rhythmic precision — for purposes not of display, but meaningful expression.
Her great singing monopolises attention for the lay reviewer of such music, recommending it to non-specialists. This leaves little space, and exposes some lack of resources relevant to discussion of T.A.S. Mani’s work on mridangam and Ramesh Shotham on kanjira, morsing, ghatam and udu. I won’t quote reference book entries on what these instruments are. They present no aural surprises on a recording of Indian music, and in strictly musical terms, Mike Herting’s electronically produced veiled registers combine with them so completely as to suggest not ‘surprise’ but satisfaction.
This one is a little bit different, and more than a little bit special.