Sitar Trek Review: Ashwin Batish Takes Kuumbwa Into Space Fusion
The Indian sitarist whose music knows no bounds gave a tremendous show Saturday night in Santa Cruz.
by Brad Kava (Editor Patch)
Ashwin Batish - Sitar, Tabla, Vocals
Meena Batish - Vocals
Keshav Batish - Tabla, Drum Set
Myron Dove - Bass
Barbara Christmann - Flute
Murray Low - Keyboards,
Andrew Foehner - Percussion
Eliot Nemzer - Guitar
Sometimes I wonder if Western ears can ever really understand Indian music. We don't have the same scales, we don't use the same notes and we were brought up from day one on completely different sounding nursery songs.
But Santa Cruz musician, teacher and recording studio owner Ashwin Batish did his best to bridge the cultures Saturday at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, and really helped translate some of the differences.
Some classical Indian concerts are somber affairs, not all that different from serious Western classical performances. Batish, however, did some teaching between more than two and a half hours of great music, explaining the Indian scales, rhythms and even the first notes children learn.
He also plays with words in a way that made the night fun. The song titles on his latest disc, "Sitar Power: The Third Generation" give you the idea: "Sitar Trek," "Sitarzan," "Sitary, Sitary Night" and "Smokey and the Pandit," bring a kind of levity that isn't usually associated with such complex music.
It made a great show even greater.
Batish opened with a duo of himself on sitar and his 14-year-old son, Keshav, on tablas. For that moment, it could have been any Indian show by the likes of Ravi Shankar or Zakir Hussain.
But then he brought up friends, including eight Western musicians to try their hand at fusing their jazz with the Indian scales.
It worked magically all night long, although some of the musicians were skeptical about their abilities.
Pianist Murray Low was a revelation on piano, his keys reflecting the sitar and adding some chords below it. He had never played with Batish before, he said during a break, but the collaboration was phenomenal whether on piano or spacey organ.
Bass player Myron Dove was all over the place, beaming as his fingers moved at a blur all night, but particularly on a song written for him, "Sitar Trek," which Batish said only Myron could have pulled off.
Flautist Barbara Christmann added a sweet texture in licks that were all improvised in the form of great jazz.
Guitarist Elliot Nemzer couldn't be heard much through the mix, but when he finally unleashed some solos...wow....it launched the proceedings into Robert Fripp or Pink Floyd territory.
Despite all of these experienced players, the breakout star of the night was Batish's 14-year-old son, Keshav, who played Indian style music on a Western drum kit. He was like a band leader, counting off the tunes and taking charge of them, in a way that looked like it awed the other musicians.
His confidence and mastery of the drums was so far beyond his age. Maybe the best thing one can say about him is that he understood subtlety on the loudest instrument in the house, which is something not often developed in someone so young.
He is going to be a superstar. You read it here first.
One other side note: the Batish family cooked Samosas and sold them to the audience. I don't think I've seen that at a show before.
For me the highlights were when the band seemed to break up into two units. Ashwin would lead half the players along an Indian path and then he would step out and Low and Dove would bring them into electric Western jazz in a style that would please fans of Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke.
They were like waves of music crashing, one Indian, one Western and then both together. It was breathtaking.
And the real fun was in seeing how far Batish could stretch his fusion. The song "East Indian Meets West Indian" was like Silly Putty. He has to be the first person to mix Indian and Caribbean music with the song that ended the concert, a ditty he was inspired to write by Harry Belafonte, that had the whole audience singing along in Hindi.
I'd love to see this unit play more and hit the summer festivals around the globe.
This fusion is out of this world and ready to be heard everywhere.
Bookings: (831) 423-1699 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.sitarpower.com/