Celebrated jazz musicians Prasanna, Steve Smith, and George Brooks have collaborated to form the refreshingly original jazz trio, Raga Bop Trio, which will be touring to promote its self-titled debut album, recently released by Abstract Logix. Jazz melodies and funk atmosphere form the foundation of the trio’s musical style. The band’s music draws influences from jazz, rock, funk, and Afro-Caribbean styles however, it is in their exploration of the rhythmic and melodic traditions of Indian classical and Karnatik music that the Raga Bop Trio truly succeeds in embracing a global aesthetic.
Smith, the Trio’s drummer and renowned creative force behind rock group Journey, began experimenting with North and South Indian rhythms in 2002. He recognized the potential for musical collaboration after playing gigs in 2004 with guitarist of the group and acclaimed Indian film composer, Prasanna, whose musical style incorporates influences of South Indian Karnatik music. Saxophonist and prolific composer, Brooks, played in an Indian fusion group with Smith since 2003 and his expertise in North Indian Hindustani music also lent itself to Smith’s project.
Smith explains the organic process through which the band was formed, “We jammed and rehearsed, refining approaches and arrangements. The unique trio setting brought about new components in our collective creativity.”
The group played and improvised in an intense jam session, composing all of the tracks in the album over three days. Each track is unique in its fusion of Western atmosphere and American grooves and jazz melodies, and the two main elements of traditional Indian music, melody (raga) and rhythm (tala).
The saxophone and electric guitar are masterfully manipulated to achieve pitch inflections and fluid melodic patterns characteristic of traditional Karnatik and Hindustani music. Smith provides the rhythmic foundation to each track, his percussive style ranging from syncopated, running beats underpinning strings of floating melodies to solid base beats in the more atmospheric tracks. Prasanna’s interpretation of the ornamentation traditionally played on a sitar that is fundamental to Karnatik music is remarkable. He performs elaborate and distorted melodies to perfection, echoing the distinctive voice of the sitar with acoustic prowess. At times, Brooks joins Prasanna, underpinning the whimsical melodies with alto and tenor saxophones, lending a surprising depth and richness of tone to the tracks. This unconventional collaboration succeeds in keeping “the sound of the group as big as possible” while faithfully interpreting the subtle nuances of microtones and ornamentation essential to traditional Indian music in a modern way.
Dec.1-2, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.
Dec. 3. Loft Price Center East, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. (858) 534-1959.[email protected].
Dec. 4, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. JB’s Lounge, Red Lion Inn, 1401 Arden Way, Sacramento. (916) 929-5481. [email protected].
Dec. 5, 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Douglas Beach House, Miramar Beach, 311 Mirada Road, El Granada. [email protected].
Dec. 6. Cal State Fresno, Dept. of Music, Concert Hall, 2380 E. Keats Ave., Fresno. (559) 278-2840. [email protected].
Dec. 7, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s Jazz Club, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. (510) 238-1350. [email protected]