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He is such a well-respected Ustad and yet he maintains a childlike innocence and joy
In Association with

“Sacred Spaces” are those places in ones head where you are alone with the sounds and melodies that come from some source that is both within and without you

  Having a wide taste has given me the ability to be unique in my own approach to the instrument and composing in general










Spacing into two worlds  

Guitarist Lee Boice, considered heir to the McLaughlin tradition, talks to The Music Magazine about the New York music scene and his latest album, Sacred Spaces, featuring Ustad Sultan Khan

How did this album come about? Did you know Ustad Sultan Khan before?

I first met Sultan Khan through my first sitar teacher Bina Kalavant . He was a guest in their apartment in New York City. I had been a long time fan of Sultan Khan and his beautiful sarangi playing. You can imagine my surprise when, arriving for a lesson one night, I walked into the room and found Khan saab sleeping on the floor. I was so nervous working with my guru while Khan saab slept a few feet away. As soon as the music started he woke up and introduced himself to me. I was thrilled. He sat for a moment, listened and then jumped right into the lesson. He sang me some variations on the gat I was practising, kept time while I played and made some suggestions for future practice. He was so gracious and kind, my nervousness quickly disappeared. We quickly became friends and I have done live sound for him and been a guest at many of his shows in the New York area. Khan saab is not only a master musician but a master human being. You can feel the music that surrounds him and the vibe is beyond words when he sits and tells stories of India and its musical heritage. He is a master of improvisation and has a love for all music and all styles.

He is such a well-respected Ustad and yet he maintains a childlike innocence and joy. Eventually I played him some tracks I was working on and he enjoyed very much what I was attempting with my music. Without me even asking he offered to play for me whenever I was ready.
On his next visit to NYC we spent the day in my studio and Khan saab was gracious enough to play for as long as I wanted and did some of the amazing playing you hear on Sacred Spaces. Another good friend Ira Landgarten.recorded the day on film. Ira, a genius in his own right, has been the unofficial photographer for Indian classical music for many years and has done album covers and interviews with many greats including Nikhil Banerjee and Manilal Nag, to mention but a few.

How did this love of Indian music happen to you?

I came into a love for Indian music through the back door.  I was always a Beatles fan and when George Harrison started using the sitar in a pop context I became fascinated with the sound. I read about him and Ravi Shankar and soon had my first sitar recording at home (1968). It wasn’t what I had expected but there was something very “familiar “ about the sitar, like I had heard it and known its sound all my life. I bought a copy of Shankar’s Sound of the Sitar and I listened to raga Malkauns  every day for months. It grew on me and little by little I was completely hooked on Indian classical. On my next CD, which I’m presently recording, I’m doing a blues/jazz piece based on Malkauns in honor of that very deep and moving raga.

How would you define Sacred Spaces in musical terms?

It’s difficult for me to put a label on what I’ve done on Sacred Spaces. There are many influences blended into the fabric of the music. I originally come from a blues/rock/pop guitarist background. Those influences are definitely there, especially in pieces such as Sultans Blues and Jungle Blue. I see much of my music as being visual . Even as a child I would be playing music in my head to go along with whatever activity I was doing, almost creating a soundtrack to my own life. I think the movies were a big influence on how I heard music and could visualize the events that would go along with it. That soundtrack/mood music ideal is also woven into the CD. The masterful work of producer Bill Laswell was always in the back of my mind during the recording process. Laswell has be a major innovator in East West fusion and world music experimental music. He invented the genre in many respects.

Certainly, years of listening to Indian music and being a student the last five years or so was the strongest ingredient in the album. I wanted to take what I had learned from Indian music and blend it into the different styles of guitar work I’ve done over many years of playing and composing. My experiences with meditation and things spiritual also contributed to the overall mood of the album. “Sacred Spaces” are those places in ones head where you are alone with the sounds and melodies that come from some source that is both within and without you. That source for me is my connection to a higher power.

There were many points where the pieces seemed to be writing themselves, growing and changing as I went along. I would have a basic structure and melody line or groove and take it from there. I played most of the instruments on the album so that gave me the freedom to experiment and change parts as I went along.

I’ve always been a diverse guitarist , never being locked into one genre. I like many types of music so I’ve always enjoyed playing in many styles. In any one sitting I can listen to anything from Jeff Beck to Nikhil Banerjee to the Beatles and feel a deep connection to all those forms of music. Having a wide taste has given me the ability to be unique in my own approach to the instrument and composing in general.

What is it like to be into Indian music and living in the States? Do you have an audience?

The circle of people who love and support Indian classical music is very small, even in a big city like NY City. One gets to see a lot of the same people at concerts and musicians are especially only a few “degrees” away from each other. For years, Bill Buchen was studying tabla at the Kalavant Center with Kadar Khan, who happened to be my sitar teacher’s (Bina Kalavant ) husband. We would pass each other in the hall and chat, talk music and general NY City things. We came to realize that we both had interest in jazz and other Western forms of music as well as Indian classical. Bill, besides being a tabla player, plays regular trap drums and assorted percussion. He became my bridge between East and West, so to speak . Bill had much experience in the world of Indian music and has been to India countless times. He gave me the lowdown on how things in the world of ICM work and taught me many things about taal. He saw my hunger for all things Indian and took me under his wing so to speak. We have become great friends and  play together in a very exciting band here in NYC called Indofunk.

A bit about the other artistes in this album?

Steve James was a student of Ravi Shankar and plays sarod and violin. Again, back to the small degree of separation between people in the world of Indian classical music. Steve is a good friend of Bill’s and of Ira Landgarten. and of my present sitar teacher Daisy Paradis, but none of them knew he knew the others.

I met Steve when he sat in on an acoustic world music gig Bill and I were doing with Indofunk trumpet player Satish. We hit it off royally and Steve sat in with me on a few other shows I did with two other bands I work with in New York: Chucka Riddim, a roots reggae band, and with Michael Powers, a legendary NY City blues artist.

Steve plays both sarod and violin on various tracks on Sacred Spaces. He too has been an incredible source of knowledge and inspiration to me in my musical endeavors.

Legendary fusion tabla player Badal Roy rounded out my guest artist list on the album.

Badal of course broke new ground in world fusion by incorporating the tabla into western jazz with both Miles Davis and John McLaughlin in the ‘60s. He was a joy to work with in the studio and I was honored to have him aboard. He is without a doubt the “funkiest” tabla player in the world.

I’m hoping to get distribution for the CD into the Asian and European markets and I’m concentrating on getting exposure in the soundtrack end of the business as well.

I’m presently recording a new album that will feature the amazing voice of Falguni Shah, disciple of Sultan Khan, and Bill Buchen on tabla. There are also some tracks with Sultan Khan that were not released with Sacred Spaces and of course I’m hoping for a session or two with Badal and Steve James when their busy schedule permits.


Read a review of Sacred Spaces

Published on 29 July 2002

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