The violin has become a prime instrument of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. It is also used by many notable jazz musicians. So, it makes perfect sense that violinist and composer Arun Ramamurthy brings the instrument full circle, back to its Western origin and melds Carnatic music with jazz on the new recording Jazz Carnatica. It’s a fluid blend where the trio expands ancient ragas into the improv world of jazz. The collaborative effort is rounded out by drummer Sameer Gupta (he is also a trained tabla player) and bassist Perry Wortman. Jazz Carnatica consists of mostly original instrumental compositions. The music is a conversation between the musicians and a marriage of two genres, where the music soars, sways, and expands into unexplored territories.
“My concept with these pieces is to stay true to the raga, to stay true to the spirit of the Carnatic compositions,” stated Ramamurthy in his press release. “We may deviate from conventional song structures, and sometimes what we play suggests chord progressions, but my melody always stays in the raga.”
Raised in a South Indian family in New Jersey, Ramamurthy played in youth orchestras and also received training from a Carnatic guru while growing up.
He trained with teachers in the States but soon realized he needed to evolve. He went to India. Living for a year with the Mysore Brothers, Nagaraj and Manjunath, legendary players and teachers in the Carnatic tradition, Ramamurthy dedicated himself to practice and performance for many hours a day. “We’d select a raga for the morning and just play exercises. Up and down the neck, working really hard, until your elbow hurt,” recalls Ramamurthy fondly. “That meant you had worked hard enough.”
Some selections lean toward jazz, such as the original composition “Conception” while others salute the traditional aspects of Carnatic music, the warmly played pieces “Dhansari” and “Darbari Kanada.” Sublime spirituality is evoked in “Govardhana” while “4th Dimension” is a spacey number. Jazz Carnatica explores interwoven rhythms creating something fresh. There’s devotional music, free jazz, timeless traditional ragas, and an evocative mix of two musical worlds.
Guest contributors include keys player Marc Cary, fiddler Trina Basu, and mridangam player Akshay Anantapadmanabhan.
“We’re playing from within. I learned that approach from my gurus in India, and it is still very upfront in my head,” Ramamurthy reflects. “You can play in front of 20,000 people or a handful, in any setting. It doesn’t matter; you center yourself and play from within—and nothing gets in your way.”