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This piece took shape during the fall of 2005. Having won a research grant the previous spring to fund a brass/world music album with GABE, I had spent much of the summer listening to new music from many different cultures around the world. My research into the music of India led me to Ustad Kadar Khan, a master tabla player, and his wife Bina Kalavant, a virtuoso sitarist. Two extraordinary musicians who direct the Kalavant Center for Indian Music and Dance on Broome Street, in downtown Manhattan. Kadar, Bina and I discussed ways in which we could develop a new Indian raga with sitars, tabla and brass. Given GABE’s repertoire is mostly notated, and traditional Indian raga is improvised, we figured improvisation within some kind of structure, or framework, might be the way forward. GABE’s trombonist Jim Pugh has exceptional improvisational skills as a jazz musician and composer, and so I asked him if he would be willing to collaborate with Kadar on this new piece. Jim graciously accepted and explains how his and Kadar’s Raga evolved:

“My meetings with the great Kadar Kahn and his talented wife, Bina, took place in downtown New York City at their beautiful rehearsal/yoga studio. What were supposed to be brainstorming sessions about this piece, quickly became ‘jam sessions’ where we all played for each other. Indian music is about a specifically chosen scale (or ‘rag’), and a specifically chosen time and tempo. Once these are set, it becomes totally improvised—not unlike American Jazz music with it’s own tradition and conventions. I decided the best way to incorporate brass instruments into Indian music was for the Indian musicians to be as improvised as possible, so I wrote a number of ‘events’ (18 in all) that could be cued by a conductor in response to the flow of the improvised music. This created the necessary freedom to actively contribute to the piece, and yet not be tied to a preconceived structure, allowing Kadar, Bina, Javed and Imran, to go where the music took them. We did decide on having a set ending though, which was musically cued by Bina”.

As I mentioned, apart from a couple of jazz arrangements and perhaps some aleatoric pieces, most of GABE’s repertoire is notated and structured, and so Jim’s system of inserting spontaneous brass ‘events’ dependent on the improvisation was ideal. Not only did it give us a framework, which we understood, it also provided the opportunity for other members of GABE (namely Mark and Jeff) to improvise between the ‘events’. Jim continues:

“A raga begins with a scale determined by the singer or sitarist. The scale Kadar and Bina chose was a simple B flat pentatonic scale: G, F, D, G, B flat, C with six beats per measure divided into triplets—6/8 in western terms. When the five tones of the original melody and subsequent harmonies are viewed from a twelve-tone perspective, some interesting chords and chord voicing emerge. Once each note in the scale had a number (i.e. 1,2,3,4,5, etc.), I could build chords using every other note (1, 3, 5; and/or 7, 9, etc.), the same way we construct chords from major scales. These new chords can then be plugged into conventional Western harmonic progressions and, because we’re using a non-standard scale, a fresh sounding harmonic language comes out. These are some, but not all, of the methods I used to create the ‘events’. In the opening section, there are also events that are purely textural in nature, events to reinforce the melody and even one purely aleatoric (chance) cue derived from the 12-tone method. The rhythmic section of the piece gave me the opportunity to play with repeating different length groups of notes—playing 8, eighth notes repeatedly over the 6 beats, 5 notes over the 6, 7 over the 6, etc. This creates a rhythmic counterpoint which, every so often, lines up with the underlying 6-beat pulse. I had a lot of fun putting this piece together, and it was a thrill working with Kadar and Bina. The experience was enlightening”.

from notes by Graham Ashton © 2007


Scenes of spirits
SIGCD099Download only


Track 1 on SIGCD099 [14'35] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD099 track 1

Recording date
4 August 2006
Recording venue
Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York, USA
Recording producer
Steven Epstein
Recording engineer
Richard King & Sebastian Cortone
Hyperion usage
  1. Scenes of spirits (SIGCD099)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: May 2007
    Download only
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