Third Journey Music, 2008
REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/20/2009
I have for a long time been fascinated by the confluence of Indian and Western music, whether it be the Beatles’ use of sitar, Miles Davis’ use of tabla during his fusion period or John Coltrane’s hinting at Indian scales when playing soprano saxophone. The subject becomes even more timely as jazz begins to see a an influx of American musicians of South Asian descent, led by the Indian-American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. So when I first received pianist and santurist Mariah Parker’s Sangria, described on the cover as “An Indo Latin Jazz Musical Experience,” I was excited. “Indian, Latin AND jazz,” I thought. “All three have such great potential.”
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with this recording. Unlike their predecessors in Indo-Latin Jazz, Parker and her crew fail to use restraint when mixing these three styles, therefore creating a clustered and mismanaged sound rather than the unique concoction intended. The album hits with an overwhelming sense of confusion from the first song, “Waterwheel.” After a promising piano/bowed bass/bansuri intro, the tabla enters at much too high a volume, causing immediate discomfort. When the bansuri, a beautiful Indian alto flute, enters with the melody, it is immediately overpowered by the piano and guitar, which also sound out the head (melody). The song would have been more powerfully executed if the melody was only heard from the bansuri while the guitar and piano either dropped out or provided support for Mindia Devi Klein, the bansurist. The mixture of three instruments playing in unison makes its impact less effective. Both Parker’s piano and Matthew Montfort’s guitar solos are decent, which is quite a task when playing in a 7/8 meter (a song counted by subdivisions of 7), but “Waterwheel” already loses its appeal by the time the solos come around.
It would not be so bad if only the first song sounded like this, but I found myself feeling the same way about every subsequent song. This is very unfortunate, for all the album’s players are solid and well-trained. This includes Parker, who has studied with renowned pianists Art Lande and Rebecca Mauleón and has a sensitive piano touch reminiscent of Bill Evans, albeit more rhythmic. Also, most of the songs are compositionally intriguing but fail to reach their potential through poor arrangement, production and group execution. The most interesting composition on the album is “First Flight,” which features a soaring melody played on soprano saxophone by Paul McCandless, whose tone is both beautiful and mysterious. Sadly, like Klein’s melodic interpretation on “Waterwheel,” McCandless’ is overshadowed by the piano and guitar. To add insult to injury, Parker and her crew decided to use guitar for the solo rather than soprano sax, which is not used on any other song on Sangria. In doing so, they deprive the listener of the most enigmatic and gorgeous sound on the album.
Jazz is about experimentation with ideas. Mariah Parker’s Sangria is an example of good ideas that never reach their full potential. Under better direction, arrangement and production, the songs in Sangria could have been gems. Instead, they sound messy and disorganized. I hope Parker continues to explore the avenues of Indo-Latin Jazz in order to eventually find the diamonds in the rough.