by Josef Woodard
INDIA CALLING: Of the world’s serious music forms, Indian classical tradition holds a special, profound place. With its centuries-old vocabulary and emphasis on improvisation and oneness of mind, soul, fingers, and instrument, the music reaches depths of emotionality and spiritual resonance untapped by other musical forms.
Santa Barbara gets a fair share of serious Indian music, though we could always use more. UCSB has hosted concerts by the remarkable V. M. Bhatt — on his customized slide guitar — and others just below the radar of household name fame, and we get occasional appearances by lofty musicians in the field. Last spring at the Arlington, Ravi Shankar made a stop, performing with his gifted daughter Anoushka, who also showed the capacity for artful cross-breeding of Indian music and Western ideas in her opening set.
Perhaps the finest radio show in the area (sez this biased reporter) is The India Show, a longstanding institution Saturday afternoons on KCSB 91.9 FM. Divided between an hour of classical music — both Hindustani and Carnatic traditions — and an hour of the unique musical culture of Hindi film music, the show connects the listener with a distant yet immediately alluring and deep culture.
This Saturday, September 2, at the Center Stage Theater, the Hindustani musical cause pays a visit, when sitarist Paul Z. Livingstone performs a concert of evening ragas and music from India and Nepal, along with tabla player Gregg Johnson. This is the kickoff event of what will hopefully be a continuing series of Eastern classical music shows under the rubric “Get Inspired,” sponsored by the Future Traditions Foundation.
Born in Beirut but based in Los Angeles for many years, Livingstone has devoted himself to the traditional ragas of Hindustani music, but has also been involved with the careful blending of East and West in his work. He has done session work with Ozomatli and Alanis Morissette, among many others, and has freely stitched elements of Indian music, jazz, electronica, Latin, and other ideas in his Arohi Ensemble. His latest CD is The Salaam Suite, another world beat-ish merger project.
At Center Stage, though, he will play it straight. One base of operations for Livingstone has been Cal Arts, where he studied with the late Amiya Dasgupta and Rajeev Taranath (as well as Ravi Shankar). Livingstone also now teaches at Cal Arts, founded by an idealist named Walt Disney. The presence of Cal Arts, along with other pockets of so-called world music and specifically Indian music intrigue in Southern California — including at UCSB — have helped to make this corner of the globe a conducive climate for that stirring musical entity. FRINGE PRODUCT: Speaking of profound traditions in the musical universe, let us now praise the ballad-playing of great jazz pianists. There is something uniquely moving about the quality of introspection from a well-played ballad on piano. For proof of this theory, proceed directly to Enrico Pieranunzi’s new album, Ballads (CamJazz), recorded with his longtime allies Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums.
Pieranunzi, a great Italian musician, is a poetic musical force and a name well-known to any jazz piano fan, but not nearly as well known as it should be on the general scene. He projects sensitivity, poise, and a sense of exploration in his playing, as well as his writing, which begs to be called “Euro-jazz” for its incorporation of classical elements and harmonies beyond the American ken. On the coolly meditative Ballads, Pieranunzi includes two standards — “These Foolish Things” and Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” (one of the greatest of jazz ballads) — and a stylistically suited piece by Baron, whose own compositional voice is a lovesome and underrated thing.
The lovely, mood-lit album closes with the pianist’s “Cabiria’s Dream,” a wistful little tune laid out impressionistically over the trio’s unstretched canvas of a structure. Meditations are made of this. (Got e? firstname.lastname@example.org.)