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Ragatal John Eyles: Avant magazine Issue 10 (winter 1999)

'Ragatal' & 'Indo-Jazz Fusions 1&2'

About thirty years separate the recording dates of these two releases. The 'Indo-Jazz Fusions' (combined here on one CD) were first released in 1967 and 1968. After Joe Harriott died in 1973, John Mayer did not want to carry on with the band. Following a short-lived version with Steve Williamson earlier in the decade, Mayer formed the new Indo-jazz Fusions in 1995. 'Ragatal', their second release, was recorded in October 1997. Listening to these two CD's back-to-back sheds light on the changes of the past thirty year. Indian music was fashionable in the late 60's, thanks to the likes of George Harrison and Donovan, and their patronage of Ravi Shankar. However, cross fertilisation between different traditions was rare. Despite jazz musicians like Yusef Lateef and Coltrane displaying Eastern influences, 'World Music' was many years away. In that climate, 'Indo-Jazz Fusions' was a bold, innovative and influential record. Despite the title, this never sounds like fusion of raga and jazz. Passages of jazz alternate with raga. There is little here that has ambiguous origins. The more rigid discipline of the raga is dominant rhythmically and texturally, with the jazz players making compromises to fit in. Those looking for a source of Joe Harriott's legendary status will not find it here (try 'Free Form' instead). Nonetheless, this is fascinating music that stands up well to repeated listening.

Jumping ahead thirty years, to current incarnations of the group, we find a very different story. Music is now global; cross-fertilisation between different traditions (deliberate or otherwise) is the norm. Significantly, the group is no longer called 'a double quintet' (i.e one jazz, one Indian), it is an integrated ensemble; the Indian and jazz elements are now more fully and successfully blended than in the Harriott group. There are other elements of World Music too; 'Miyan ki Malhar' has distinctly South African rhythms.

Despite the inclusion of instrumentation associated with jazz (sax, trumpet, double bass) the music is almost all scored, even the solos, John Mayer does not believe in too much improvisation - after all, he is Professor of Composition and Composer in Residence at Birmingham Conservatoire!

However, some solos do sound very spontaineous and in the jazz tradition. Anna Brooks tenor solo in 'Partita' would not be out of place on a Stan Getz record. Even though there is genuine fusion in this music, to my ears the dominant sound is still that of India. Maybe Indian ears would say the jazz influence dominates. Anyway, Duke Ellington said, 'There are two types of music - good and bad.' This is good.

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