Our second Special Projects presentation of 2016 is next Wednesday, March 30 at Lula Lounge - the CD release party for Petal, the debut album from Sundar Viswanathan's AVATAAR. Prepare for a musical journey!
AVATAR creator and saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan has performed at home and abroad with some of the biggest names in jazz and world music; as a composer he's written for musical settings but also for dance companies in Canada and the United States. And, when listening to AVATAAR, I can certainly hear influences from Sundar's myriad travels and associations - this is jazz at its core, but with lots of other styles mixed in.
When describing AVATAAR, Sundar talks in part about his "explorations of spiritual philosophies including Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, mystic Christianity, Kabbalah and even New Age thinking". AVATAAR's music, to me, reflects this spirit of exploration and of discovery. We talk of music as a "universal language"; on Petal, Sundar has effectively incorporated elements of Indian, Indonesian, Brazilian, groove, and ambient musics, while maintaining a central focus on improvisation - a fundamental of jazz.
I took acting classes throughout high school, and I remember my acting teacher talking about the difference between "acting" and "acting at". When someone is really "acting" a role, the audience is transported to a different time and place, truly believing what the actor is doing on stage. Whereas, when someone is instead "acting at" a role, the audience might tend to think, "that person is working very hard to pretend to be someone else."
The same holds true, I think, when an ensemble tackles the fusion of various musical styles. Sometimes it can sound as though the musicians are working very hard at incorporating one concept or another - we can tell it's not their "home base". With AVATAAR, however, the mix of styles sounds natural - as if it makes perfect sense to mix jazz saxophone with tabla and electric guitar (and more). This is thanks in part to Sundar's compositions, which navigate at times complex musical concepts while remaining singably melodic and rhythmically groovy; and thanks also to the group's outstanding musicians, each of whom has immersed him/herself in the study of other forms of music - I would suggest that none of these musicians is "acting at" his or her role, as the musical styles represented on the album are already so ingrained in their musical practice.
So - interesting compositions, exciting playing, fiery soloing, and some sounds you may not be used to hearing in a traditional jazz context. This is going to be a fun show, and an excellent example of what a "Special Project" can be.
Join us next Wednesday night, 7:30 pm at Lula Lounge for AVATAAR's Petal CD release celebration. Complete details are on the concert page.