Even if the early post-Parker ‘modalists’ like Mingus, Davis and Coltrane were deemed ‘avant garde,’ successive artisans—Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra and then later Miles—made virtue of atonality and set jazz spiralling free of fetters, defying the ‘isms’ and challenging the ‘ists.’ Even as jazz seeks new alliances everyday, classical Indian music, with its uncompromising tonal, modal and rhythmic structure, was a seductive magnet to jazz. John McLaughlin, first with Mahavishnu Orchestra and later, Shakti, did more than anyone else to open the mainstream to musicians like Radha Thomas. A trained Dhrupad singer who swings like Ella, Radha Thomas (then Radha Shottam), found enthusiastic acceptance in New York and she worked the jazz club circuit, performing with musicians who are considered legends.
In I Only Have Eyes For You, Thomas—as a composer-singer-songwriter—joins the ranks of those who set another stone in the building of the art. In a collaborative effort that took the better part of a year, with young talent Aman Mahajan—Berklee-educated pianist, composer and arranger—Thomas’ album presents a new and natural sound that moves seamlessly between jazz, Indian and Latin themes. Amazingly, odd time signatures and unexpected harmonies have not detracted from ‘… Eyes…’ which is a tuneful, pleasant and melodious listen at every level.
Bluesette swings in 5/8 and 5/4 as opposed to the traditional 3/4. The signature tune I Only Have Eyes For You is in a poignant 7/4 with a sawaal-jawaab (Q&A) section and introduces a variety of time signatures in interesting rhythmic patterns. Luiz Antonio’s Brazilian-bossa classic Meniña Moça has been given new life with lyrics written by Thomas. Almost Like Being In Love opens with an unexpected hip-hop vocal riff and smoothly transitions into swing. Thomas does an exhilarating version of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man using vocalese to serve up all the instrumental parts.
Connections and Refuge are two powerful original tunes composed by Mahajan, with lyrics by Thomas. Call was written by Thomas and the Human Bondage front-man Suresh Shottam. It was originally recorded in New York with the late, great Joe Farrell on flute. This modern version sports a compelling solo by British saxophonist Matt Littlewood, the featured soloist on the album.
Recorded at Control Room Studio & Milton Street Performance Center in Bangalore Recording Engineers: Don John Philip and Aman Mahajan
Mixing & Mastering: Jack Braglia (vitalmastering.com, New York)
‘UNK’ is led by Radha Thomas and the band members include Radha Thomas (vocals), album collaborator Aman Mahajan (piano), Matt Littlewood (saxophone), Mishko M'Ba (bass), Ramjee Chandran (guitar) and Suresh Bascara (drums).