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Purbayan Chatterjee Talks New Album ‘Unbounded (Abaad)’ and Global Push

The fusion record from the sitar artist features everyone from Béla Fleck to Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, Zakir Hussain, Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess and more

Anurag Tagat Oct 21, 2021

Sitarist and composer Purbayan Chatterjee.

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Sitarist and composer Purbayan Chatterjee’s new album Unbounded (Abaad) boasts a long list of veterans from the jazz, fusion and Indian classical world, which was likely no easy feat to put together. Chatterjee says over a video call that it came together as though he was inviting guests to a party. “Sometimes they came [to record on the album] because of each other,” he says.

For example, vocalist-violinist Thana Alexa was told that fusion band Snarky Puppy’s leader Michael League was helming bass duties, which may have influenced her to sign on, according to Chatterjee. Alexa’s spouse, drummer-composer Antonio Sanchez (known for his work with jazz guitar great Pat Metheny) also joined in. “That’s why this album is so exciting — many of these people haven’t done things with each other. For instance, I believe Michael League and Zakir Hussain haven’t come together before this,” Chatterjee adds.

Tabla legend Zakir Hussain also wrote a detailed note to veteran composer and banjo artist Béla Fleck, nudging him to be a part of Unbounded. Fleck appears on “Lalitha (The Joyful Mother),” alongside Hussain, League and powerhouse vocalists Shankar Mahadevan and Mame Khan. Chatterjee recounts that Fleck brought a lot of reverence to the recording sessions which took place via Zoom. “He would say, ‘Oh, this song that we’re doing, it’s in raag Lalit?’”

A seasoned sitarist and experimentalist in his own right – he’s been a part of several fusion projects by young and experienced artists and also performs classical concerts around the globe – Chatterjee describes Unbounded as a “culmination” in his love story with jazz. The seven-track album – released by U.K. label Sufiscore – had its origins in Chatterjee’s meeting with Metheny several years ago at the latter’s New York studio. The sitarist was asked to learn a few jazz standards and although a collaboration hasn’t materialized yet, Chatterjee did begin diving into jazz music in a big way.

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When he did make the leap, he was aware that in the world of jazz fusion and improvised music, it was important not to take himself too seriously. “I think the best work is achieved when you’re ready to fall flat on your face and get up,” he adds.

Even though he was ready for the fall, Unbounded ushers in the rise of Chatterjee as a grandiose fusion artist unlike ever before. It helps massively that he’s got his collaborators in tow; prog metallers Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess joins a rhythmic heavy-hitter lineup of percussionist Taufiq Qureshi and drummer Darshan Doshi on “Khula Asmaan (Firmament).” Percussionist V. Selvaganesh and mandolin veteran U. Rajesh feature on “Shanmukhapriya (The Mystic),” while vocalist Gayatri Asokan joins on “Sukoon (Catharsis)” and “Nayi Shuruaat (New Beginnings)”. Multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband adds crucial keys to “Intezaar (The Wait)” with clarinetist Anat Cohen, plus vocalists Ustad Rashid Khan and Pratibha Singh Baghel.

In terms of branching out to find collaborators, Chatterjee notes that some – like Rudess’ appearance – happened due to sharing mutual friends in producer and keyboardist Mahesh Raghvan. The album’s mixing engineer Aditya Srinivasan knew Michael League, which led to that thread. The longest wait, however, remained with Fleck. Chatterjee says, “Béla is not the kind of person who does sessions. Neither does he do sessions nor does he normally do a lot of collaborations, unless they are his own. So he’s either involved as a band member/collaborator, or not at all. It was a pretty excruciating wait but he came through eventually I’m glad that he agreed.”

The sessions with Fleck were a revelation for the sitarist, who plans to use video footage from remote recording sessions to create a documentary film and release it on an OTT platform. “I was on a Zoom call with Béla Fleck and we were talking about my favorite jazz pieces, and one of the pieces that came up was ‘Got a Match?’ by Chick Corea. He just picked up his banjo and started playing for me,” Chatterjee says.

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Beyond the documentary, there is an India and worldwide tour in the works. Chatterjee begins talking about giving Unbounded a “global presence” and making a mark in the U.S. and regions of Europe. It invites the question of whether the star-studded fusion album is also being sent to be considered for music’s biggest night, The Grammys. Chatterjee confirms that he and the team at Sufiscore have submitted it for Best Global Music Album. Nominations will be announced on November 23rd. The sitarist adds, “You cannot make albums thinking of a certain award but yes, when you make something like this then you want it to reach where it deserves. To reach the Grammys or any other form of award is always going to be a natural benchmark.”

Until then, Chatterjee is going full speed ahead with concerts across the board and working with composer-singer Shashwat Sachdev on sitar recordings, a project commissioned by Remote Control Productions, the music company co-founded by master composer Hans Zimmer. Chatterjee adds, “We’ve been working together to create this whole soundscape which is going to be Indian yet not Indian. There’s going to be a little hint of India, but it’s overall very contemporary, and hopefully it will be picked up by Hollywood films.”

Listen to ‘Unbounded (Abaad)’ below. Stream on more platforms here.

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