Friday, March 23, 2012

Jazz as Compassion: John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan

John Handy is a saxophonist who teaches jazz and other good things in American universities, particularly around the San Francisco Bay area.  He started his jazz career in the late 1940s and spent considerable time playing and recording with Charlie Mingus in the late 1950s and early 60s. 

John Handy

In 1975, before such things were all the vogue, he made a record with Indian sarod player, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Titled Karuna Supreme, it is perhaps a complement to Coltrane’s Love Supreme. Karuna is a Buddhist concept/word signifying compassion. 

Ali Akbar Khan

It is a great record and I’ll let others tell you about it.  Enjoy!

Karuna Supreme, recorded in 1975, is one of the earliest true fusions of Indian music and jazz, and remains one of the most successful. John Handy's incredible mid-'60s quintet ably demonstrated his aptitude for modal playing, and Ali Akbar Khan had long been one of Indian music's greatest ambassadors. Like Khan, Zakir Hussain was also the son of one of India's finest musicians, and had been exposed to jazz as well from an early age (his father, Allah Rakha, recorded with Buddy Rich in addition to his long association with Ravi Shankar). The way these players find the common musical ground from their respective backgrounds is breathtaking. The album starts with the lively "Ganesha's Jubilee Dance," which has a simple but unforgettable melody that Handy and Khan use as a springboard for some amazing soloing. Handy's improvisations are melodic and effortless, and some of the rhythmic flourishes supplied by Ali Akbar Khan are incredible. Zakir Hussain is equally stunning, reacting instantly to whatever the soloist is doing, offering both support and drive to the piece. The title cut is slower and more contemplative, but no less beautiful, and a nice complement to the animated "Ganesha's Jubilee Dance." "The Soul and the Atma" is a bit more reminiscent of Indian classical music, with its alap-like introduction, but once the tabla kicks in, the structure opens up for more amazing improvising. It starts kind of slowly, but gradually builds intensity over the course of its 20-plus minutes. The level of communication among the players throughout this session would be difficult to surpass. This is one of those rare East-meets-West recordings that absolutely succeeds at every level. Highly recommended. (AMG)

            Track Listing:
01.   Ganesha’s Jubilee Dance
02.   Karuna Supreme
03.   The Soul and The Atma

Listen here.


Apurva Bahadur said...

Very nice. Thank you for sharing. Apurva from Pune, India.

Barron said...

Few East-West fusion projects are genuinely successful. This is certainly one.

Others from this period that I greatly enjoyed were the first two Shakti records, and "The Restful Mind" by Larry Coryell. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi. Do you think you could post this again? I just heard about this recording and can't find it anywhere.