(originally written Sept 2008)

I'm often asked, "why Indian music?" Sometimes the question is put in a more probing manner, such as "why do you think you can do this?"

I'll try to address some musical and philosophical aspects on those issues in this post.

In the late 90s I had some nice solo opportunities in Europe based on work using the most abstract modern free jazz and improv techniques within a springboard of *very* traditional flamenco ( pre-Paco, and really pre-soloist - my favorite flamenco players are the early cante accompanists). Very, very disparate traditions, yet the lynchpins I heard connecting them were musical occurrences such as a certain dissonance in the harmonic voicings; the fluidity of tempo; the immense degree of subtle improvisational interplay between guitarist and singer. I was hearing a lot of connective tissue between the two, not parallel bundles but interesting, flexible hinges, joints, angles, sinews, tendons. I started working with that and then took that idea a bit further, trying to liberate the material from a metric confinement while still keeping rhythm and drive very much a part of it. That distinction between meter and time and rhythm -- all distinct elements in my book -- had been done a lot within the free jazz idiom itself, but hadn't really been applied in a flamenco context.

Conceptually, I'm trying to develop a similar methodology to working with Indian musical material; there's a lot of connective tissue I'm hearing here too. On the sarod and tabla it's voiced in a much more subtle and melodic approach, though I think the electric instrumentation we're exploring will in some ways call for a return to some of my earlier rigour and more overt abstractness (but I think we'll maintain the lyricism of the acoustic setting as well).

Its very nice to be absorbed in the fretless electric, discovering what it can do as a tool to link the methodologies in avant free improv and Indian music.

Thats a long way of saying that I don't think musical fusions have to be terribly closely related to be successful; it may be helpful, but I think the exploration can be quite fertile by looking at where and how things *connect* (and how different musics approach their detail and methodology in developing improvisation -- that improvisational aspect, then as now, is key --), in addition to looking at what parallel streams of commonality there are. Anchor the connecting elements, celebrate the differences. Unity in diversity ( a parallel Sufi concept also).

For me, it's not about trying to be an Indian Classical Musician. I love it, respect it immensely, learn it, learn from it -- but I'm not an ICM, won't ever be, and in truth, it wouldn't interest me musically to completely go that path. I also respect it too much to pretend to do it.

What drives me, what interests me is how this music merges into what I already am.

Somehow, what I'm sensing just as a person and also what I'm hearing musically calls for a certain kind of cultural articulation to complete it. That cultural articulation isn't just limited to the music, either, as I'm driven to be engrossed in many aspects of it - learning the languages (Hindi and Bengali), cooking, absorbing dance, film, reading history and current trends, etc, etc. There's so much more I need to immerse in still, to make the music work, to better integrate myself as a being, I feel. But this is the life process.

And yet, while somehow I'm connected to that culture, that land in this very broad and deep way, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler, Peter Brotzmann, Led Zeppelin are all just as much a part of me and the music I make. To sell either tradition short is dishonest to myself and dishonest to both legacies.

Its my hope that I honor and respect the Indian musical tradition by being *internally* honest with it, folding aspects of it into myself while offering my own traditions to it in return.

I think people sense that, given the feedback we've gotten by people from India and other accomplishments such as the film project.

(originally written Sept. 2008)

I've been quite energized by preparing for the challenge of the upcoming solo fretless gig.

Last solo gig was about six years ago, and there has been a lot of absorption and intake of languages, experiences, musics, and instruments over that period.

The main impetus of course has been the re-immersion into Indian music.

Indian music is essentially linear -- which is beautiful and is what its instruments are geared to -- but a solo fretless guitar can be more, much more, than just an electric sarod (which might be cool as well, but that's another story).

Jefferson and I are still hammering out the subtleties of applying the fretless in the Duo setting, but as I've been developing the solo material for the fretless the past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm still treating the fretless in an essentially linear, " electric sarod" fashion with the Duo. Ha ha, that may change significantly when we get together next as I go through this process.


In an earlier post I discussed some aspects of my previous solo work, applying very post modern improvisation concepts into an early flamenco medium:

Very, very disparate traditions, yet the lynchpins I heard connecting them were musical occurrences such as a certain dissonance in the harmonic voicings; the fluidity of tempo; the immense degree of subtle improvisational interplay between guitarist and singer. I was hearing a lot of connective tissue between the two, not parallel bundles but interesting, flexible hinges, joints, angles, sinews, tendons. I started working with that and then took that idea a bit further, trying to liberate the material from a metric confinement while still keeping rhythm and drive very much a part of it. That distinction between meter and time and rhythm -- all distinct elements in my book -- had been done a lot within the free jazz idiom itself, but hadn't really been applied in a flamenco context.

Conceptually, I'm trying to develop a similar methodology to working with Indian musical material; there's a lot of connective tissue I'm hearing here too.

While that post wasn't written that long ago, what's now apparent has been the impasse of treating the fretless in such a linear fashion.

But exploring the chordal and harmonic possibilities that a guitar can bring (and I mean both terms in the broad yet strict sense of any pitches sounding simultaneously, rather than implying any traditional sense of Western functional I-IV-V harmony or "standard" chord types) reveals the much larger challenge of applying some simultaneous pitch textures, filling the landscape with some vertical structures across the Indian music linear horizon.

Flamenco was easier in the sense that there was already prescribed harmonic procedures -- I just voiced them differently for added density and tension. Applying verticality to Indian music, so far I'm treating chords and tone clusters as more weighted, dense versions of any given melodic pitch, rather than any implied harmonic foundation or direction.

More to come.

For booking, workshops, and other engagements for USA and Europe, the best way to reach Pray For Brain is by e-mail: stefan at norumba dot com.

For India dates, representation and booking , contact Niti Madan, Purple Tree Productions +919769394782. Email: madanniti at gmail dot com.

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