World & Latin

Doctor Without Borders

29 APR 10 JOHN C. BRUENING

Previously a sideman on tours with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison, Indian-born physician-turned-violinist L. Subramaniam recorded a short series of albums on Milestone in the mid-1980s that showcased his ability to blend Indian and European classical music with contemporary jazz, folk and even shades of progressive rock. Concord Music Group re-released two of Subramaniam's Milestone recordings as a single package called Indian Express/Mani & Co. in 1999.

If fusion was the buzzword of the '80s to describe the opening of the jazz idiom to outside influences, Dr. Subramaniam was one of the most innovative figures of the movement, if not one of the most well known amid the mainstream. The combined 14 tracks of Indian Express (1984) and Mani & Co. (1986) not only showcase his imaginative work on violin (as well as violin synthesizer and viola), but include a high-powered supporting cast: guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Stanley Clarke, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, flutist Hubert Laws and several others.

There's no lack of variety here, and a broad range of dynamics. The driving "Indian Express" opens the set with a haunting minor melody that rides atop a thumping beat, but tracks like "Grasshopper" and "The Pink Moment" take a more lighthearted and easygoing approach. The energetic "Super Instinct," a tribute to Indian saint Sai Baba, spotlights Ferguson's powerful staccato horn work, while "Memories Of Jaffna" is inspired by Subramaniam's memories of his childhood in Ceylon, where his musical consciousness was first awakened.

This two-fer defies easy description, sounding Eastern one minute, firmly grounded in Western jazz the next -- and oftentimes both. Whatever the sources, the resulting layers warrant repeated listening.