SYDNEY saxophonist, composer and beachside resident Sandy Evans’s love of the Australian coastline and her deep appreciation of Indian music combine to make Cosmic Waves a cross-cultural collaboration to cherish.
With the inestimable assistance of the Chennai-based Carnatic (South Indian) ensemble Sruthi Laya and subtle contributions from Sydney colleagues, the country’s pre-eminent female jazz instrumentalist has continued a journey that emanated from a tour of India in the mid-1990s as a member of the Australian Art Orchestra.
Flowing through 12 tracks, the music created by these consummate players ebbs and flows majestically. The opening piece, Ksheera Sagara (Ocean of Milk), featuring meditative, improvised duets between Evans’s soprano sax and co-author B. V. Balasai’s equally ethereal bamboo flutes, radiates melodic ripples as a lead-in to the more rhythmic Big Swell, created by the combination of sax, percussion and Alister Spence’s piano.
The leader switches to tenor sax for her energetic composition Floating on an Emerald Sea before Big Swell Reprise offers a short, sharp and altogether more turbulent and percussive take on the earlier theme.
Inspired by fauna collectively spotted north of Broome, the atmospheric and evocative Noisy Whale and Oystercatchers and edgier Eagle Landing at Cape Leveque provide a stark comparison even if they are virtual companion pieces.
The spectacular Kimberley coast of Western Australia was also the motivating force behind Cosmic Waves at West Beach, a 10-minute ensemble highlight that sees all the players riding the crest of a proverbial wave.
A ragamalika study, it shines the spotlight on the virtuosity of Sruthi Laya leader Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani’s mridangam (double-headed hand-drum), and V. Suresh’s ghatam (claypot hand-drum) playing and U. P. Raju’s dexterity on electric mandolin, as well as featuring some fast and furious exchanges between the stringed instrument, sax and flute.
The album’s cornerstone track is distinguished by vocalising of percussive patterns and phrases from Mani, similar to the technique exhibited by popular Anglo-Indian singer Sheila Chandra. Another gentle vehicle for duet improvisation between Evans’s soprano sax and co-composer Balasai’s bamboo flute, Morning Star and the percussion-dominated Clouds at Dawn come before a minor mandolin masterpiece from Raju, Child of the Sea, and the album’s most blues-infused cut, The Agile Wallaby.
The album reaches an elegant if slightly anticlimactic conclusion with Sea Blossom, a 7min 26sec drone-backed solo bamboo flute improvisation. Nevertheless, Cosmic Waves represents a significant symbiosis, one that respects and honours the depth, beauty and complexity of both Western jazz and Carnatic music.
Label: Underscore Records/Birdland
Rating: 4! stars
See more about Cosmic Waves here…
Cosmic Waves on The Weekend Planet
New CD – Cosmic Waves