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Ned Rothenberg's Sync at Sangha in Maryland

This was a very interesting evening for a number of reasons. First of all, it was another example of a setting in which jazz and related genres of music can be presented in a way that makes economic sense. The organizers, Transparent Productions, to quote from their website, (http://www.geocities.com/eyelounge/DC/trans.html) "is a non-profit, volunteer organization that produces creative improvised music concerts in the Washington DC area. Our goal is to bring this wonderful music to DC audiences while maximizing the benefit for the artists (by giving them 100% of all proceeds.)" On this particular occasion, I counted between 50 and 60 people at Sangha Buddhist Bookstore (sangha.ws) which itself is "a fair trade store & performance space," where "purchases of anything and everything directly supports and helps to sustain worker-owned co-operatives." Their policy ensured that the musicians were reasonably well compensated for the evening. The intimate setting also lent itself to a high level of rapport between musicians and audience.

The resulting music was drawn from the more accessible side of Rothenberg's work. One of the most accomplished multi-instrumentalists in the jazz sphere, he likes to work, as he explained to me, "both inside and outside," and he sustains a number of different projects representing this full range of expression. Sync is a collaboration between contemporary, improvised, American music, in the persons of Rothenberg and bassist/guitarist Jerome Harris, and the Hindustani or North Indian tradition, represented by Samir Chaterjee who is probably the most accomplished tabla player residing in New York.

Jazz/Indian fusion is by no means a new genre, the earliest example is John Meyer's Indo-Jazz Fusion with Joe Harriot, from Great Britain in 1967. Since then, John McLaughlin's Shakti went a long way to popularize the genre, blending his guitar work with Indian artists such as violinist Shankar, flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia, and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, among others. Percussionist Trilok Gurtu has done a lot of work in this area, as has an Italian group called Tihai, and the record label Water Lilly Acoustics has recorded a number of albums pairing Indian players, both Northern and Southern, with jazz artists, such as the collaboration between American flutist James Newton and Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath.

Sync's approach takes its own unique angle. In the notes to the group's first album Port Of Entry, Rothenberg compares their approach to "a trio of chefs, experienced in varying degrees in the different musical cuisines of the world." The results are consistently engaging. Rothenberg utilizes his clarinet and bass clarinet a good deal, plus outings on alto saxophone and one number on the Shakuhachi, a Japanese, end-blown flute. He contributes textures that move from quasi-Indian to bluesey, to a ‘free' jazz sensibility, particularly in his solo cadenzas. Chaterjee supplies a mastery of tala, or Indian rhythmic cycles, allowing for compositions by both Rothenberg and himself, in a variety of odd, but seamlessly-incorporated meters. Harris, mainly playing acoustic bass-guitar, but occasionally acoustic guitar, provides the glue that holds the whole sound together. The quality of both the writing and the playing ensures that all the elements blend together very successfully.

The program this evening drew on pieces from both of their CDs, Post of Entry and the brand new Harbinger, including "March Hair," which managed to have a march-like feeling in spite of being in 13, "Crumbly" which features Rothenberg's alto sax, "Gamalang," and two of Chaterjee's compositions, "Kashmir" and "109" which alternated between 10 and 9 beat cycles.

Sync is one of the finest examples of "World Music Fusion," (or whatever the marketing people like to call it.) Their CDs are available at Amazon.com, with more information at nedrothenberg.com. They are definitely worth seeking out.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ned Rothenberg's Sync'
  • Concert Date: March, 2006
  • Subtitle: Transparent Productions Provide Venue for Experimental Music
  • Venue: Sangha Bookstore
  • City State Country: Takoma Park, Maryland
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