In the musical world, all of us are kind of kinsmen

It’s not often that a Kannadiga gets written about in The New Yorker.

In 1985, Akumal Ramachander (left), “a part-time correspondent for a local paper who taught English at an agricultural college, but had been something of a drifter”, earned a lengthy profile in the magazine for discovering and successfully promoting Harold Shapinsky, a long-forgotten abstract expressionist painter.

In 2009, the saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath gets an honourable mention alongside the jazz sensation of Kannada origin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, but now “as American as apple pie or Barack Obama“.

“Jazz musicians have two fundamental goals: creating music that keeps listeners wondering what’s next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths. (There are no new truths.) Whenever a musician achieves this synthesis, usually after years of apprenticeship and exploration, a rumble echoes through the jazz world.

“Such a rumble was heard last fall, when the thirty-seven-year-old alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa released an astonishing album, “Kinsmen,” on a small New York-based label (Pi), quickly followed by another no less astonishing, “Apti,” on a small Minnesota-based label (Innova)….

“While Mahanthappa was at Berklee, his older brother teasingly gave him an album called “Saxophone Indian Style,” by Kadri Gopalnath. As far as Mahanthappa knew, “Indian saxophonist” was an oxymoron, but the album amazed him.

“Gopalnath, who was born in 1950, in Karnataka, plays a Western instrument in a non-Western context—the Carnatic music of Southern India (distinct from the Hindustani musical tradition of Northern India). Gopalnath, who generally plays in a yogalike seated position, has perfected something that jazz saxophonists have been attempting for decades: moving beyond the Western chromatic scale into the realm of microtones, a feat harder for wind instruments, whose keys are in fixed positions, than for strings or voice.

“Jazz players, such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler, had gone about it by varying intonation, blowing multiphonics (two or more notes at the same time), or squawking in the upper register, where pitches are imprecisely defined. Gopalnath does none of that. Using alternate fingerings and innovative embouchure techniques, he maintains faultless intonation while sliding in and out of the chromatic scale.”

Read the full article: A passage to India

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: The Kannadiga jazz virtuoso creating waves

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