THE MASTER. Sultan Khan and Warren Cuccurullo Six Degrees. Album and tracks available on iTunes and amazon.com. $9.99
In 2011, the world lost a great artist, master sarangi player and unforgettable vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan. Khan was known in the classical circles as the force to keep the sarangi in mainstream and popular circles as the vocalist for, among others, Bollywood’s Jab We Met (the haunting folk refrain in the track “Aao Milo Chalo”) and the soundtrack for the Tamil movie Yogi.
It was therefore a great surprise to the music world earlier this year, when The Master by Six Degrees Records, featuring Khan and rock guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, surfaced. Cuccurullo is best known for being part of the popular pop band Duran Duran. The two had apparently jammed in 1997-98, but the album was on hold because Cuccurullo needed to finish one particular track. Says Cuccurullo, “One day I typed in my name and Sultan Khan’s name to see where he was at. A Times of India article came up with an obituary. I had no idea. I realized I have to get these tapes, I need to make his family aware of them, and I had to finish 4D.”
The first track, “The Holy Man’s Plea” has Khan’s lilting “Babul mora naihar chooto jaiye,” the sarangi reaching forgotten places in your heart. The 12-minute “4D Suite” was recorded in one day and the soulful sarangi is offset by Cuccurullo’s light-hearted guitaring with drums crescendoing in the background. Interestingly the bass and drums were added later to the album, the original tracks were recorded with just the sarangi and guitar.
Cuccurullo infuses drama in “Mirror Margana,” inducing the illusion that you are watching flitting images from a black-and-white era movie. “Sikar” is mostly aalaap (melodic intonation of notes)—“The first time I ever saw the actual instrument (sarangi) played live it was on stage in 1991 at Royal Albert Hall,” says Cuccurullo, speaking of a Duran Duran benefit concert featuring Sultan Khan. In 1996 while working on the song, “Buried in the Sand,” he remembered an aalaap by Khan that he thought would fit perfectly. That was perhaps the first time the sarangi was heard in American pop music. This album is perhaps the last of Khan’s original work to come to track.
New Jazzsey Violin
JAZZ CARNATICA. Arun Ramamurthy—violin, Perry Wortman—bass, Sameer Gupta—drums Available on iTunes. $8.91
Arun Ramamurthy, raised in New Jersey, was gifted a violin by his grandmother when he was a child. He was urged to play it. He did. And grew up to form The Arun Ramamurthy Trio comprising, apart from himself, noted drummer Sameer Gupta, and bassist Perry Wortman. Their album, “Jazz Carnatica” was released in October 2014.
“We’re playing from within. I learned that approach from my gurus in India, and it is still very upfront in my head,” Ramamurthy reflects. “You can play in front of 20,000 people or a handful, in any setting. It doesn’t matter; you center yourself and play from within—and nothing gets in your way.”
“Maha G” is the ageless Karnatik “Maha Ganapathim” set to a Western ethos. Ramamurthy pays homage to Indian composer Swati Thirunal in his jazz-remixed “Dhanasri.” The fourth dimension in “4th Dimension” is brought by Wortman with the violin at times rounding off the rough sounds of the bass, at times giving them a tonal height. This track comes closest to conventional jazz than the others. “Simple Joys” has interludes of the deliberate karnatik rhythm, but the result is simple joy, not cacophony.
“Delusions” gives us a glimpse into the soul of the Trio. “The piece is in Adi tala [a 16-beat cycle akin to 4/4] but I wanted the melody to pop,” explains Ramamurthy. “I wanted the bass to counter my line, and the drums to hold down the down beats. Sameer crashes right on the one, but my melody leaps off him. You can feel the dynamics at play.”
The album has several guest contributors such as keys player Marc Cary, fiddler Trina Basu, and mridangam player Akshay Anantapadmanabhan
Indian classical music is grounded in rigor, but only to empower as its musicians seek an unbounded musical landscape. Jazz is a free synthesis of immersed melody, notes, and emotion. They just go together. Or as Ramamurthy says, “It’s about connecting in the moment.”
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.