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Ranjit Barot’s Space Jazz Theory

The Mumbai-based drummer on his debut studio album Bada Boom featuring a star line-up including John McLaughlin

Lalitha Suhasini May 31, 2011
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Bada Boom which took a year to come together was arranged when most of the international musicians were on the road. “Every time they made a pit stop, they’d mail me their piece and it would go back if we had ideological differences,” says Barot. ”˜Revolutions’ from the six-track album has the strongest Carnatic leanings. The drummer articulates the thought behind it: “Imagine the first time that the Universe experienced order in the way of orbits, when everything coalesced into something coherent. How beautiful that music would be, when synchronicity hits space and suddenly at one point, all these magnetic fields and planet start to orbit. For me, it was almost like there’s a music in that. A Western composer would write a ballet to that. It’s like a dance.” The composition begins with the hookline from a Carnatic track named ”˜Mallari’ played on the nadaswaram (South Indian wind instrument similar to the shehnai). Barot has dedicated the track to his late friend and legendary saxophonist Charlie Mariano. “We toured Europe together. Charlie spent a lot of time in Chennai learning the nadaswaram too. Amit told me later that ”˜Mallari’ was one of Charlie’s favourite tunes.”

Besides guesting on the album, McLaughlin further endorsed Barot when he chose him to replace Mark Mondesir, the gifted Brit drummer and longtime collaborator since 1996, in the 4th Dimension tour that kicks off in Europe in July. Barot recalls how he landed the spot when he was invited to perform at New Universe Music Fest in North Carolina in late 2010, that included an All Star Tribute to McLaughlin led by Garland. “Everybody was interpreting Johnji’s tunes. I played ”˜Jazz Jungle’ from his album The Promise (the first album on which Mondesir collaborated with McLaughlin incidentally). Zakirbhai was there as well. It was great fun. I think that’s when he decided that he wanted me on 4th Dimension,” says Barot.

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Barot is all fired up about the Nice Jazz Festival that opens on July 8. “I want to be challenged to the point that you think that your heart is going to come out of your mouth because there are monsters on stage. Mike Stern and Dave Weckl are opening before us. So when you go stage, you have to be fucking scared, but in a good way, not in a piss ant way. I want to experience that, not the same shit – meet three days before the gig, play the same shit because that’s what your conscience will allow for two days of rehearsals.”

Barot believes that Bada Boom is his calling card to the exclusive club of the world’s finest jazzmen. “I feel it’s given these songs a life and I’m no longer some outsider now. It’s an interesting dichotomy that all of us have – we dream in English but that doesn’t make us less Indian. If you explore that dichotomy, we are able to see the meeting point of many cultures,” he says, even as he admits that it will be tough taking an album like Bada Boom on tour. It’s a tricky album to play considering the number of musicians on it. Besides, sponsors pull out often, as it happened with his Delhi shows recently which would have featured Garland and bassist Etienne Mbappe. “It’s a hard gig, man. I spent almost Rs 18 lakh on the album. I included an orchestra, recorded in London and I know I will never recover it. But none of the big names on the artist charged me for it. If we strip away our gender, ethnicity, choice of instrument, or vocation, all we’re left with is intent,” says Barot. Bada Boom is fuelled by both spirit and intent – enough reason for it to be made.

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