Sunny Jain, at 28 years old, is a young man with skills and musical accomplishments that a man three times his age might envy. His parents are from India, but Jain grew up in Rochester, New York. His first exposure to music was the traditional bhajans and Hindustani music of India. He was entranced by the rhythmic elements and began learning to play drums at a young age. He eventually discovered other types of music, including jazz, and went on to pursue jazz studies at Rutgers University. He has played sideman to Norah Jones, Kyle Eastwood, Lonnie Plaxico and Kenny Barron, among others. All that experience and variety of influences (along with fantastic chops) has allowed him to develop into a jazz drummer with a very worldly view of the music. In 2002, he was even named Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. State Department and the Kennedy Center, and was given the opportunity to perform and lead workshops in Africa. Here he brings together traditional Indian music, hard bop, drum ‘n’ bass, country and rock in a way that still sounds completely organic and indisputably ‘jazzy’ in the purest sense. While this is undoubtedly a daring undertaking, the magic of this recording is how well it has been executed and how the variously elements are all mesh together so seamlessly.
Joining him on this wild adventure is Rez Abbasi on guitar and the seldom heard sitar guitar, Steve Welsh on tenor sax (and effects) and Gary Wang on acoustic bass. It would have been foolish to attempt a project such as this with anything less than a topnotch band behind you, and Jain has certainly recruited the best. Not only do they all possess massive technical skills, but they seem to understand what Jain is attempting to accomplish here, and they overwhelming succeed in bringing the vision to life.
This music follows a serpentine trail of twists and turns, full of mid-song tempo, meter and mood changes. For example, it begins with the modal-inspired Jain original "Mango Festival" and then moves on to a Welsh original, "As Is", which begins with him playing a sixteenth-note figure on tenor that he loops on delay and then plays on top of (in real time). Some tunes, like "Masqualero", are heavy with Indian/Middle Eastern influences, while "Aap Jaisa Koi" has a loping country-western feel (sounding like something one might have heard Sonny Rollins play earlier in his career - think Way Out West). Regardless of what they are playing, the band always plays with great restraint and dynamic range, which allows the music to sizzle and burn while at the same time not overwhelming the listener, as some high-energy jazz sometimes tends to do.
This is music that feels both ultra-modern and ‘old’. I believe it is a glimpse of the potential for amazing art that the young jazz players of today are capable of when they mix the old with the new. This is a hint as to where the future of jazz lies. The truth of the matter is that you can call it by many different names, but ultimately, this is a music that defies any label other than, simply, "jazz".