Freddie Bryant and Gilad give jazz a global interpretation — mixing genres and experimenting with new instruments

We catch them at a busy time. An hour to go before a performance-workshop at the American Center in New Delhi, and the two musicians on stage are trying to perfect the sound system. Sometimes there's a sound delay on the speakers, sometimes an untraceable ‘zzzzzzzz'. Freddie Bryant and Gilad, the two musicians, though concerned, are hardly ruffled. Both veterans in their own genres, they know how things eventually fall in place as deadline approaches.

While Freddie keeps alternating between the electric and the Brazilian guitars, Gilad's percussion set is a mix of traditional instruments and others quite ancient-looking and exotic. Gilad's also covered the floor tom with a towel and he looks pretty pleased with its hue of “dried tomatoes”. There's also something that looks like a shrunken spaceship, which emits a sound somewhat like a jaltarang but not quite.

Freddie Bryant has been to India before, in 2003, while this is Gilad's first time in the country. The two have most recently worked together on the project “Triol del Sol” along with pianist Misha Piatigorsky.

With at least one required to stay on stage, both speak to us in turns.

Freddie is best known for playing Brazilian jazz on a classical guitar — an improvisation reminiscent of how the Hawaiian guitar became a Hindustani classical instrument in India (and even fetched it a Grammy once).

While his early training was in classical music and his later initiation in jazz, the two genres came together when, at a gig, a friend asked him to perform Brazilian jazz on a classical guitar. “It kind of worked out,” recalls Freddie, an important part of the jazz scene of New York.

In 2003, Freddie went on a nine-nation tour as part of the group Kaleidoscope: The String Project, when they were appointed ‘Jazz Ambassadors' by the U.S. Department of State. “We went to Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE besides coming toIndia as part of the tour,” he says. In India, Freddie had collaborated with Delhi sitarist Shubhendra Rao.

The travels are reflected in the mixed influences which drive his music. “One of my songs ‘Drum On' is a mixture of Middle-Eastern and Indian influences. The scales are very similar and so are the ragas,” he says.

Mixed influences

Mixed influences are something Freddie has grown up with. His mother Beatrice Rippy was an opera singer and father Carroll Hollister a pianist. Their own music was a collage of many. “My mother sang in seven languages. She also did Broadway and some Negro Spirituals. It opened my mind to different influences,” recalls Freddie, who got initiated into music when he was all of seven. “They used to play a lot of classical music at home. My father would read the music and I would turn the pages. He played the piano so even I played piano for a while.”

With already five albums behind him, Freddie Bryant is now working on a CD on jazz legend Thelonious Monk's music. He's also faculty at Williams College in the departments of Africana Studies and Music. How does he manage music with teaching? “I teach in the fall semester, so from January to August I am free to tour,” he explains.

The Delhi visit is part of a larger India tour that has so far also covered Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Kharagpur (for the IIT ‘Springfest'). Freddie and Gilad have come to India after Myanmar and then proceed to Singapore and PapuaNew Guinea.

Gilad, of the above-mentioned exotic percussion instruments, meanwhile, says, “Every time I visit a new place I make it a point to listen to and learn the local instrument, and also probably take one back.” Consequently, those who know him, suggest how he could even open a museum with his vast collection, comprising percussion instruments from all over the world, including some from Africa, Brazil, the Middle East, and India (the tabla).

The “spaceship”, he says, is called a ‘pantam' or ‘Hang' and was made by a gentleman in Trinidad and Tobago. “It's supposed to be played only on one side but I play it on both,” Gilad adds.

Explaining the towel on the floor tom, he says, “When you're on tour you don't always get what you ask for, so you manage with what you have. I can play on a chair and I promise it will still be music… I always want to create that sonic spectrum on stage.”

Gilad has performed with Zubin Mehta's Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra on one hand and Ricky Martin on another. After two albums — On 3 with Vinny Valentine and Wild Flower — he's at present working on his third. “It's called Spices and every song is named after a different spice,” he smiles. Besides, he's also worked on soundtracks for Discovery channel. “Sometimes, when you hear a “tok tok” of an insect in the background, it's not the insect, it's me,” he grins.

( Freddie Bryant and Gilad performed at the American Center this past week)