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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
review of Sacred Spaces