Nuanced rhythms of India and Africa power the sounds of Swiss jazz giant Malcolm Braff's contemporary compositions that address the musical concerns of the world rather than the niche musical stage of traditional jazz that grew out of America.
Braff, described as one of Switzerland's best contemporary jazz pianist, was in India with his band, the Malcolm Braff Trio, at the International Jazz Festival in the capital presented by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR).
He played a fusion recital with bassist Reggie Washington and percussionist Stephane Galland from a repertoire of new European arrangements with global sounds.
‘I came to India for the first time in 2005 with French-Swiss contemporary jazz maestro Erik Truffaz as a trumpet player. He was touring India. In every city that we visited, we invited local classical musicians to join us,’ Braff said. The local collaborations led to fusion performances, most of which were impromtu.
It was the beginning of the 42-year-old musician's engagement with Indian music. ‘While we were playing in Kolkata, we met an upcoming musician duo - Indrani and Apurva Mukherjee - and played their songs with them,’ Braff recalled.
The concert later matured into a project when the band returned to Kolkata after two years in 2007 and spent a month rehearsing with them. ‘We created an album of western jazz improvisations with Indian classical music,’ he said.
It was not really fusion as the way people understood fusion here, Braff said.
‘We were trying to merge two traditions so that they could retain their identities,’ the musician said. The album was special to Braff because ‘there was no bass’.
Indian tabla and African rhythms - especially the influences of Abdullah Ibrahim's Africa and Zulu gospel - creep into Braff's compositions in subtle ways.
‘I am inspired by what I perceived as a child travelling around the world. I was born in Brazil and moved to Africa at the age of two. I spent my childhood in Cape Verde and Senegal,’ he said. Braff says he cannot pretend to be bringing ‘African rhythm directly in my music, but it comes in unconsciously’.
Jazz has, over the years, evolved into distinct genres to become ‘Indian, American and European. I don't really know Indian jazz really well, but I think about musicians applying jazz attitude to their music to express differently and improvise’.