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Fluent album from an Indian jazz hero

Amit Heri, India's leading jazz artiste, has just released his first album. The arrangements show rich variety

Amit Heri Group
Earth Music, India
Rs 499 (CD)/ Rs 100 (cassette)

Bangalore's most active and almost certainly India's leading young jazz artiste, Amit Heri, formally released the first album under his own name at a concert in the city on February 26. Called simply Amit Heri Group, it was recorded in New York with a group of his old buddies from his student days at the Berklee College of Music in Boston -- Matt Renzi on tenor and soprano saxes, Pete Rende on electric piano and electric organ, Matthew Garrison on electric bass and Marko Djordjevic on drums. Praveen Rao on tabla, pakhawaj, kanjira and vocal percussion joins an essentially mainstream jazz group to lend a touch of Indian classical music, but Heri himself offers a sample of his work in fusing Indian music with jazz.

This aspect is evident in the second piece, Alaap, on which he uses his 12-string guitar to produce a sound akin to the veena and also glides smoothly between the notes in the style of Indian music. The piece starts with an intro or alaap on guitar, then Renzi on soprano sax joins Heri for the theme. A percussion duo interlude between tabla and drums and a solo by Garrison on bass augment the variety of sounds on this number.

Rao contributes vocal percussion solos to the first number, Elephant Walk, and the third, Aathma. The brisk pace of Elephant Walk contrasts with the reflective Alaap. The choice of instruments to solo or render the theme also offers a wide variety. For instance, Elephant Walk opens with tenor sax stating the theme and a solo follows on guitar, while Aathma starts with a bass intro followed by tenor sax and guitar taking up the theme, then a solo from electric piano. On Where Ah Yah Goin' Blue Renzi chooses the soprano sax to render the theme, with guitar supporting him on the former and bass on the latter.

The arrangements thus show a rich variety, which, besides the Indian classical influence, is another way the album moves off the track of mainstream modern jazz. Otherwise, despite the presence of electric instruments, the music is largely untinged by rock. Djordjevic's drumming is especially quiet and subtle in the tradition of straight jazz. The playing is consistently fluent and shows the ensemble obviously comfortable together. All the numbers are composed by Heri, which is not surprising since his talent in this department shone bright in his student days. Here's hoping we'll hear plenty more of Heri, with this group or in other equally confortable settings, in the years to come.


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