22 December 2004
NY Jazz Report's Thad Kawecki and Will Wolf stopped by the Knitting Factory on Monday 6.December to see the Sunny Jain Collective as they performed at the Tap Bar. Their recent CD on Zoho Music is entitled: "MANGO FESTIVAL."
Wolf: When the Sunny Jain Collective CD arrived at the offices of NY Jazz Report and was given a first listen, it was immediately clear, with its exotic flavor and interesting blend of musical influences, that this group was something special.
Kawecki: Yes, with his Collective, Jain has managed to create a successful hybrid of South Asian and Western music. His cross-pollination of traditional Indian, jazz, rock, and electronic effects has yielded a sound that is exciting, fresh, and wonderfully original.
Wolf: And each musician adds to that success with his own unique contribution and style, and ideally, this works best when all players interface in equal proportion. This is the case with the CD. It's an almost perfect collaboration, a true collective.
Kawecki: The personnel on the CD did have that special chemistry. This performance at the Knitting Factory was slightly less magical.
Wolf: Yes, and less cohesive. The group assembled by Jain for the evening provided music with a different flavor, and although for the most part still pretty tasty, it was not quite as satisfying. And its effect was less compelling. Rez Abbasi, on guitar and sitar guitar, is a major ingredient in the overall sound of the CD. And although Richard Padron proved to be a fine player himself, Abbasi's Asian influence was missed.
Kawecki: Yes it was. Abbasi's distinct style seems tailor-made for this type of East/West fusion. Also, his use of the sitar guitar in a jazz context is refreshingly novel and gives the ear some extra spice.
Wolf: And the mix, bottom heavy in electric bass, sometimes blurred the musical statement. This was a shame because the bass player, Jeremy Wilms, is obviously a first-rate musician.
Kawecki: Unfortunately the Tap Bar's acoustics leave a lot to be desired, and this couldn't have helped their efforts. And although the set was well structured and included a variety of interesting tunes from the "MANGO FESTIVAL" CD, the performance itself was a bit perfunctory. At times there seemed to be a disconnect among the muscians, a feeling of them being on "auto-pilot."
Wolf: Despite these drawbacks their concept was strong enough to sustain the performance, and even though the live version of the tunes from the CD did suffer a little, they were still noteworthy.
The five song set began with Steve Welsh's hypnotic pleasure "As Is," one of the album's more inventive numbers. with a beautifully stated melody by the composer on tenor.
Kawecki: Welsh's looping of that tune's opening line under his real time playing was highly effective and made the quartet sound that much bigger. It was the first taste of the electronic effects that permeated the set. Welsh adds a strong jazz element to the group and possesses a rich, modern tenor sound which he brought to the evening's only ballad "My Aspirations." Jain's active percussion under the relatively slow harmonic motion of this tune felt like a gathering storm.
Wolf: Jain's Indian roots are always apparent, and are especially noticeable in his highly sophisicated and complex sense of time. This was most obvious during the set's rendition of "MANGO FESTIVAL," the CDs title track. Using his laptop to provide the primary drum beat, Jain then added dynamic punch to this rhythmic delight by way of the dhol, a traditional Indian drum, a double headed, barrel shaped instrument held horizontally with a neck strap and played with two sticks, one of them slightly bent. The celebration was intense, emotional, and infected by a wistful Asian melody.
Kawecki: This tune was a good example of tradition meeting technology. And an opportunity to see this Bhangra drum in action.
The closing number tentatively titled, "Indian Tune #1," was an intricate affair consisting of Indian and Western meters, changing tempi, and a melody nimbly doubled by Welsh and Padron.
Wolf: One of the more structurally interesting tunes of the evening. Perhaps it will be included in the next CD. And if that one is as well done as "MANGO FESTIVAL," a five-star recording, it's certain to be a success.
Kawecki: Well, follow-up albums are allegedly the toughest, but Jain and his Collective seem more than up to the task.
SUNNY JAIN  Website
Mango Festival CD
email Thad Kawecki
email Will Wolf