It’s surprising that Indian musicians haven’t made greater inroads into jazz. Of course, there are significant examples of Western players being influenced by Indian music and Indian instrumentalists have also featured in jazz settings, most memorably in John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu and Shakti groups.
But Indian jazz singers especially are rare – and Rhada Thomas has long been ploughing a lonely furrow. Active on the New York club scene for 20 years, Thomas is back in India now and leading her eponymous Jazz Ensemble. What’s interesting about her sound is that she brings her training in Hindustani classical music to a contemporary jazz setting. What you hear is essentially mainstream jazz, but with a distinctively Indian flavour.
In a recent, well-received record she explored songs associated with Chet Baker using a New York backing group. This time, Thomas has gone for a pared-down approach, collaborating with Berklee-trained and near-Bangalore neighbour Mahajan. Together they thread their way through a compact set of torchy, reflective original pieces. The Morning After sets the scene with Thomas opening with raga-ish vocalese before the song’s narrative sets a more Manhattan type scene.
Thomas’s close-to-mic style creates a low-lit, intimate atmosphere, Mahajan’s delicate comping slipping into satisfyingly sympathetic solo passages. She’s also got the dry humour of a well-honed club singer, detailing the annoyance of Bangalore’s power cuts on the lightly swinging stand-out piece Load Shedding.
On the title track Bangalore Blues, Thomas’s wispy-to-contralto pipes describe her yearning for the old country in a Gotham style that’s redolent of Blossom Dearie. Musically, she’s clearly happy in either culture.
Hear/buy Radha Thomas & Aman Mahajan: Bangalore Blues at thomas-mahajan.bandcamp.com/releases
The Morning After; Jailer; Would I Lie?; Leitmotif; Load Shedding; Only Illusion; Bangalore Blues (31.00)
Thomas (v); Mahajan (p, Fender Rhodes). Bangalore, no date.
Sub Continental Records SCRO11