Friday, Aug 18, 2006

Pulav, pani puri and veena

Around five years ago, jazz pianist Robert Wright listened to the veena and fell in love with its sound
photo: sampath kumar g.p. 
EAST AND WEST Robert Wright was in India to jam with Geetha Navale on the classical veena


"I love the gamaka aspect of Indian music, the modulations sound superb, the variations are unbelievable," said the English jazz pianist, poet and electronics engineer Robert Wright at Allaince Francaise recently, who works from his state-of-the-art studio at Seattle in the U.S. "Be it your peas pulav, pani puri, or Abheri raga, everything bowls me over," the musician gushes.

Wright was in India as he jammed with Geetha Navale on the classical veena, and B.N. Ramesh on mridanga in the `The Rubber World Concert' brought by Guruskool at the Alliance Francaise. The interesting aspect of the exercise was the seamless blend of piano and veena one with absolute keyboard straight notes and the other, a stringed gamaka instrument. "That's the reason we wanted to unite and enjoy the aural mixture of different regions," says Wright.

It was around five years ago that Wright was stung by the melody-bug of the veena when he first heard Geetha's concert at the U.S. and the passion just transformed into a fusion album of spontaneous music `Rubber World' recorded in a week's time.

The evening's fusion did contain a few numbers from the album and also had solo jazz vocals by Wright. Raga Malahari in Maya was unfolded in both the genres. With some generous notes played by Geetha in variations from the initial swara exercises of Carnatic music, the jazz part of it touched on the straight notes and meandered on the scales creating `illusions' of the coming together of geography and the mediums. The ebb and flow of the notes inBlues, "Don' t Fall Down Easily" came as a surprise package, who are more into fusions. Raga Margahindola, soft and pliable, handled by Geetha with "Chalamelara" had long pauses even as the slow-paced gaps were being aesthetically filled over with chord patterns on the scale by Wright. "The other side of the town" written and sung by Wright, speaks of the grass, streets and people being better on the other side of the town. Is that the reason why Wright was here in Hamaara Bharat? The number, "Blondes in black cars" sounded thunderous as they jammed in Abheri. But that isn't the end of ragas for Wright. He dotes on Mayamalavagowla as he finds an eastern touch of Arabic intersperse in the notes. "I like the A harmonic minor that is fused in a lot of your scales," says the amused engineer. "Shankarabharanam rocks, I can play for hours on the wonder scale," he says, even as he speaks of taking up elementary swara lessons in India and is keen on learning laya patterns on tabla and mridanga.

Wright recalls: "I wanted to be a rock and pop guitar musician. I was briefly associated with bands in Seattle and Phoenix. But after my experiments with the piano that my parents had fondly bought for me, and the other world influences of esoteric jazz, I started practising on it feverishly." The self-taught man went on to release several albums of his jazz piano later, "Man Standing" and "Towers of Love" hitting the charts in the U.S.

If all that speaks of the melody-and-poetry embedded in the self-taught man, the engineering part is equally stunning. Wright, a consultant for Boeing, was associated with avionics and worked with the cockpit control systems and designed the communications system for Boeing 767, 777 and 737.

Just back from the World Womad Festival, spearheaded by Peter Gabriel at Reading (near London) the pianist is looking forward to African and Indian music fusions, along with Wild African drums infused with the mild thumps of Indian percussion. "I straddle in many worlds," he says, even as he mentions his website for getting into the arts.