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Opening night at the San Francisco Jazz Festival will give a nod to the far reaches of Indian music with “Miles From India,” the music of Miles Davis performed by Davis veterans and top Indian musicians.
A two-CD set of the same name explores the influence Indian music had on the jazz icon. On the Corner, Davis’ 1972 album, employed Indian musicians, such as tabla player Badal Roy, and met with controversy upon its release.
Thirty-six years later, Miles From India takes these connections further, starting with the studio album—featuring Roy, violinist Kala Ramnath, and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, among legendary Davis bandmates—and branching out into live performances. The group played three shows in spring, making two stops in California. The fall jazz festival will host the group’s fourth performance.
Producer Bob Belden and Yusuf Gandhi, head of Times Square Records, spearheaded the project. “Yusufhad the connection to India and an understanding of Indian classical musicalong with an appreciation for jazz and also fusion music. I suggested revisiting Miles’ Indian influenced music using some of thoseguys from On The Corner along with some Indian classical musicians,” Belden says.
Among those musicians is critically acclaimed saxophonist and jazz composer Mahanthappa, who says he is “the wild card” of the bunch. “You have these heavyweights of Hindustani and Karnatik music, and people who have played with Miles Davis. And then you have me—I’m neither of those,” he says laughingly.
Although he considers himself the wild card, Mahanthappa isn’t such a stretch for this project. His upcoming album, Kinsmen, slated for release in late September on Pi Recordings, is a marriage of none other than jazz and South Indian music. And Mahanthappa’s extensive collection of work includes top-rated jazz albums and five consecutive Rising Star honors by Downbeat International Critics Poll.
Although most listeners call his work fusion, Mahanthappa objects to the term. “‘Fusion’ is having not a whole lot of knowledge of the thing you are trying to fuse with. I’m not Indian, I’m not American; I’m both. It’s about hybrid identity, bicultural identity. Jazz was the music that’s bicultural at its core,” he says, pointing to the African roots of the music that mix with North American and South American influences. “There’s some kind of openness about jazz that immigrants, or children of immigrants, can embrace.”
The Miles From Davis ensemble gives audiences a chance to see a jazz hybrid come to life with Hindustani and Karnatik influences.
Friday, Oct. 3, 8 p.m. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. $20, $30, $45, $60; discount for members. (866) 920-5299.www.sfjazz.org.