This unique project, Nocturne, from alto saxophonist and composer Aakash Mittal and his Awaz trio transports you to the nighttime streets of Kolkata, (formerly Calcutta), India. The instrumentation is unusual to say the least as Mittal fronts the trio of guitarist Miles Okazaki and percussionist Rajna Swaminathan (playing mridangam and Kanjira). Mittal says, “I wanted to explore ‘night music’ as not only being meditative, calm and peaceful, but also being full of density, collision, friction, and dissonance.” Let’s acknowledge that most of us associate jazz with nighttime music and that the classical concept of the nocturne, with Chopin, and others, veers more to the first part of Mittal’s statement. He takes those two ideas and combines them with the Hindustani tradition of performing ragas at certain times of night, abstracting them into different contexts. He describes it this way, “There’s a lyricism that reflects the slow cadence of blue light melting into darkness, but there is also that aspect of energy, urgency, and intensity that can rise with the urban nighttime in India.”
Mittal’s compositions brilliantly create these visual and aural landscapes, making easy to imagine the teeming nighttime urban activity, as if one were moving from one neighborhood to another and then to a busy commercial center just bursting with people. His realization comes from having lived in Kolkata from most of 2013-2015 through a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies. He relates this story, “One night at the peak of Kolkata’s Durga Pooja festival, I boarded a bus heading down Rash Behari Avenue. The city’s population of 14 million had seemingly increased overnight with the addition of millions more tourists and visitors. As travelers continued to climb onto the bus, I became more and more compressed by the mass of bodies around me until the overwhelming volume of people in gangway lifted me off the floor. With one hand holding onto the bus railing, I became suspended by my fellow humans as we moved through a sonic landscape of traffic noise and pooja drumming. The human density, music and noise of nighttime adventures in Kolkata informed the sound of Nocturne.”
Such a story comes to life when listening, especially in the fourth track, “Nocturne II” whereas “Nocturne IV” paints the kind of calm, peaceful nightscape alluded to previously. The others that are more colorful and bubbling with interesting rhythms are “Nocturne III,” “nocturne V, and “Street Music Part 1.” Mittal uses on-location recordings to provide authenticity in “Street Music 1, interlude (“Street Music Part 2”) and for inspiration in “Street Music Part 3,” which has echoes of Coltrane as it begins. Mittal has a passion that projects enormously through his creative soundscape, one that you’ll return to often for its many mesmerizing and visually transportive moments, inspired by Mittal’s time in Kolkatta.
- Jim Hynes.
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