Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Review--Deepak Ram's Steps

Deepak Ram

Golden Horn Records

Imagine John Coltrane's Giant Steps played on a bansuri flute (India) backed by a bossa nova rhythms played on guitar and percussion, and that describes flutist Deepak Ram's latest CD, Steps. Since Indian classical music and jazz both rely on improvisation, this is not the first time the two traditions wed. And the overall musical marriage wraps a warm blanket of dreamy revelry around its listeners.

This album feels good as it lifts the energy in the room. Not only that, Deepak and those musicians who came on board, Tony Marino, Vic Juris and Jamey Haddad know their way around jazz classics. Besides, Coltrane's Giant Steps and Naima (off of the same Coltrane album), Deepak also brings in Miles Davis' All Blues, Gershwin's Summertime, Darius Brubeck's October and Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodger's My Funny Valentine. Deepak contributes his two original pieces, Madiba's Dance and Blues for Shyam Babu.

While a jazz-Hindustani fusion is not new to my ears or to global music fans in general, Deepak's repertoire still has the power to amaze and dazzle. A bansuri flute does not resemble a saxophone, trumpet or even a standard flute. The bamboo flute which has its limitations playing western jazz, lends itself extraordinarily well to micro tonal Indian classical music. However, Deepak successfully meets the challenge of bridging these two worlds which results in spectacular universal music.

Perhaps Coltrane's love of Indian music and world music in general has come full circle. Deepak grew up listening to Coltrane and Miles Davis in Africa, but went onto study bansuri flute with Indian classical flute masters, including Hariprasad Charasia. Coltrane discovered Indian classical music early in his career, which sent him soaring in a new spiritual direction.

Steps is one of those CDs that will surprise you. It is accessible and sophisticated at the same time, with plenty of world fusion where Brazil, India and the U.S. build a peaceful bond. You just can't feel bad listening to this one.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Review--Le Trio Joubran

Le Trio Joubran
Randana/Harmonia Mundi

The Joubran brothers, Samir, Wissam, and Adnan all deftly play the Arabic oud. Palestinian by birth, but sporting Israeli citizenship, it's challenging to fathom that the beautiful music flowing from the newest disc, Majaz, hails from a place of turmoil. In recent news, we read that the Israeli government placed another stranglehold on the Palestinians living in Gaza, and now many Palestinians seek refuge in Egypt, causing an already overheated Middle Eastern situation to boil over while the rest of the world watches helplessly.

It's hard not to think of this political situation when listening to the three brothers play their ouds. These are young men who hail from a long lineage of Palestinian traditional musicians and instrument makers, and in fact, the middle brother, Wissam not only composes and joins his other two brothers on oud, but he also crafts the instruments. While performance of a 3-oud ensemble brings a contemporary veneer to the Joubran's compositions, a sense of tradition is never far behind.

And yet, these brothers find themselves immersed in the modern world. Samir, the eldest brother, who eventually recruited his younger brothers to join him, was inspired by a guitar trio that included Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin. The brothers' first recording for their own label, Randana (also the title of the CD), featured an Andalusian flavor. On Majaz, the brothers bring in percussionist Yousef Hbeisch. And yet, the compositions feel dreamy, flowing and at times, otherworldly.

When I listen to these compositions played by virtuoso brothers, I can see that in life, and especially with music that hails from places of political tension, we are faced with a duality. While we cannot ignore the political tensions in the world, we also cannot ignore the healing power of music. And while it is not a musician's job to act as a peace diplomat for their respective country, in a way, this role cannot be avoided. Yet, listening to these master musicians from a long lineage of musicians and master instrument makers, it's difficult not to hope for peace. And it's difficult not to believe that peace is possible when beautiful and tranquil music flows from the hands of three Palestinian brothers.