CD review

Tenderlonious – ‘Ragas from Lahore: Improvisations with Jaubi’

Tenderlonious – Ragas from Lahore: Improvisations with Jaubi
(22a Records 22a038, LP/CD/digital. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

Jazz musicians have rarely intersected with classical Indian and Pakistani music, but when they do they are often flautists and saxophonists. To name but four, Bud Shank played on the Ravi Shankar album Impressions (1961); Joe Harriott with John Mayer on Indo-Jazz Fusions I and II (1967-8); Steve Lacy with Subroto Roy Chowdhury on Explorations (1987); and Jan Garbarek with Zakir Hussain, Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Shaukat Hussain on Making Music (1987), Ragas and Sagas (1992) and Madar (1992) respectively.

One reason could be that the flute already figures in Indian classical music, and reeds players often double on flute and saxophone; another that reed instruments can manage the complex just-intonation tuning of Indian music but fixed-pitch, equal-temperament instruments such as the piano can’t. Both reasons would explain why the other Western jazz instrument to make the leap most successfully is the guitar, John McLaughlin with Shakti being the perfect exemplar.

Either way, if any Western player is well placed to give a contemporary gloss on Western flute and soprano saxophone married to traditional Pakistani music, it’s Ed ‘Tenderlonious’ Cawthorne. His musical inspirations include the classical Indian flautist Ronu Majumdar, and John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef (who both explored Indian music in the ’60s); and his earlier output already leapt boundaries, ranging from soul- and funk-inspired jazz on his debut album The Shakedown (2018) to Detroit House on Hard Rain (2019) – a nod to his roots in DJing and sample-based production.

Equally, if any Pakistani group is well placed to absorb Western music it’s Jaubi, comprising Kashif Ali Dhani on tabla and vocals, Zohaib Hassan Khan on sarangi, and Ali Riaz Baqar on guitar. The group’s name derives from an Urdu word meaning roughly ‘whatever/whoever’ because they believe in playing whatever sounds good and feels good, including modal jazz. And providing a contemporary sheen to the sound is Polish composer and keys player Marek Pędziwiatr, who adds synth drone.

The tunes are all based on traditional ragas, and were all improvised on the spot in one day in Lahore in April 2019. Fortunately, there are enough correlations between Indian classical music and jazz to make improvisation at short notice possible – for example, Azadi is based on a raga that uses a pentatonic scale and Kirwani on one that uses the harmonic minor. That said, the level of natural spontaneity is still impressive: Shahla opens the album with an eerie synth drone and vocals followed by keening soprano and intricate tabla; Azadi follows with growling flute, sparse guitar, tablas, and sarangi (a bowed, fretless stringed instrument with a highly vocal quality); Kirwani is a tune so jaunty you can understand why Tenderlonious reprised it on soprano saxophone on Kirwani Part II; Azeem is a meditative showcase for flute over drones; and Impressions rounds everything off by building from subdued flute and drones to climactic flute and sarangi over tabla.

One disappointment is the album’s length – London to Lahore is a long way to travel for a recording that lasts only 37 minutes. Tenderlonious has said that the next stage is to bring Jaubi from Pakistan over to the UK and Europe to record and perform – let’s hope he manages to make it happen.

LINK: Tenderlonious on Bandcamp

Review of Tenderlonious’ Quarantena by Graham Spry

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