“Where are you from?... Aap kahan se hain?” whispers a child as the camera pans on to a dense forest. In response, a jugalbandi of string instruments begins — the sarod and sitar lead the way as the violin and viola keep pace; a cello adds heft as the percussive notes of the tabla create rhythm. The music is beautiful. It transcends language, definition, boundaries, and thus answers the question abstractly.
‘The Resonance Between’, an unlikely yet seamless rendition of Hindustani classical mixed with contemporary jazz, is sarodist Alam Khan’s latest collaborative release, for which he has teamed up with sitarist Arjun K. Verma, composer Jack Perla and the Del Sol Quartet, with Ojas Adhiya, Ishaan Ghosh and Nilan Chaudhuri on the tabla.
Having been raised in the U.S., Alam Khan considers himself a product of the “MTV generation”, , yet his craft is firmly rooted in the ancient tradition of the Maihar gharana, of which his father sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan was an exponent. Hence, the younger Khan has come to be known for his unique amalgamation of varied genres known as ‘Crossover music’.
‘The Resonance Between’ is a sonic exploration of the ancient ragas of the East, and beautiful harmonic architecture of the West and their meeting point,” says Alam. He attributes its roots to the vision and innovation of his father, and grandfather Allauddin Khan. He is clear about its intent, “As composers and performers from a mixed-race cultural upbringing, this music speaks to our individual and collective journeys of discovering that world between worlds, that unique space of identity and creation.”
Arjun Verma, a disciple of the senior Khan and son of sitarist Roop Verma, who trained under Pt. Ravi Shankar and belonged to a rich musical lineage. However, Arjun is quick to assert that “music is music — a universal human phenomenon”.
Similarly, the Del Sol Quartet, best known for their mastery over 21st-century chamber music, aren’t new to cross-cultural collaborations. They have played with a number of non-western traditions including Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Persian, Andean, Mexican, and even some inspired by Carnatic music. However, this is their collaboration with the sarod, sitar, and the tabla. .
Blend of styles
“ We are building a musical bridge between our upbringing in western classical music and Hindustani classical music. For us, that means adopting the subtle nuances of pitch and groove that our amazing composers employ. At the same time, we have worked on developing stroke styles in our bowing to blend with the sounds of the sarod and sitar,” says violist Charlton Lee.
It was a tough task to shape this grand experiment into a unique sound where each component stood out while effortlessly blending in together. Yet, composer Jack Perla, who is experienced in cross-cultural collaborations, enjoyed it tremendously. When asked about his process, he debunks the idea of there being a “process” to music, preferring to call it a journey that presents him with the opportunity to expand his musical vocabulary and expression. “It allows me to journey someplace new, and to grow. When I work on cross-cultural collaborations, I try to dispense with familiar habits and open up as much as possible to different ideas and ways of organising sound, melody, harmony, rhythm, orchestration,” he says.
Jack calls the “primary musical locus” of ‘The Resonance Between’ a real hybrid, which leans toward a North Indian frame. He believes the final result was seamless only because he put Alam Khan’s and Arjun Verma’s instincts before his. “There were so many instances where I had a western composer’s instinct to provide quick contrast, to jump up an octave, provide sharp relief, trick the ear, etc.” Yet the musicians resolutely asked him to keep things simple. “I didn’t always agree at first, but as the project took shape, there was a clarity of musical intent . The results frequently reminded me of Beethoven — not always simple per se, but always as simple as possible; elemental and forceful”, says Jack.