If one plays the sitar, pygmy sitar, electric sitar, tanpura, as well as the guitar-zither, piano and Fender Rhodes, a career as a jazz musician is usually not the first thing an audience would expect to hear. That is, however, precisely the direction Jonathan Mayer has embarked on. Mayer is the son of the late Indian composer and Indo-jazz fusion founder John Mayer, so the choice of which instrument he wanted to study is logical. That Jonathan would move towards jazz is not.
Jonathan's sitar chops, and they are solid, come from years of study with artists like Clem Alford, Pandit Subroto, and Roy Chowdhury. His compositional studies in both Indian and western music came from work with his father as well as Andrew Downes at the Birmingham Conservatoire where he earned his collegiate degree. This diverse education has led Jonathan to work with a wide variety of artists including the BBC Concert Orchestra, Kenny Wheeler, Sarah Brightman, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Bombay Dub Orchestra, Kumar Bose, and Kavita Krishnamutri.
Out Of Genre is truly a world music release. The opening track, a solo adaptation/transcription of J.S. Bach's "Adagio from Sonata No. 1 in G minor" for sitar will only sound like Bach if one knows what to listen for. For most, the sound of the sitar will be so closely identified with Indian music and Indian musical modes the translation will be lost. That's not to say Mayer can't play the heck out of his instrument. While the instrument is on par with regard to expression as a harpsichord, Jonathan is still able to set up an instrumental world and palette that plays to Bach's wonderful textures.
Somewhere in the cross between western and Indian music is Jonathan's self-composed and unaccompanied "String Of Pearls." Here he mixes traditional jazz inflected blues concepts with Indian harmonic accompanying modes to create a new kind of sonic world. Trumpet/flugelhorn master Kenny Wheeler joins Mayer and his percussionists for their co-composed "Joning." Wheeler is easily one of the most adaptable jazz artists ever to walk on the face of this planet, and he shows all of this strength on this track. His pure tone, ease of technical flexibility and deep soul do not immediately come to mind when one thinks of sitar music, but the excellence of both musicians is seen in their collaboration. Easily more obviously jazz influenced than the other compositions, it is, in the end, a beautiful duet where each gets solo space but come together for exceptional single minded lines of transcendental beauty.
For those who are looking for more traditional Indian music fare, Mayer's "Rag Jiddhu" will delight. Along with Mitel Puhorit and Andy Brat on table and drums respectively, the result is a throw-down of enjoyable proportions. For some this will be a difficult disc because of its cross-borders search of commonalities among disparate musics, but for those who wish to make the trek there are rewards.