Changes in the music industry over the past decade or so have been significant and rapid. Digital distribution is now more popular than the physical product. Industry revenues have dropped dramatically and whilst these have recently rallied thanks to the popularity of streaming, they are at much lower levels than before.
These shifts have led musicians to explore new business models, such as DIY recording and the increasing use of the Internet not only as a means of distribution, but as a marketing tool and a source of financial backing.
Another means of support was made available to Sarathy Korwar when he became one of five artists to receive the inaugural InNOVAtion Award from the Steve Reid Foundation in 2015. The charity, founded by Gilles Peterson to serve as a legacy to the jazz drummer, has two main goals: to assist artists in difficulty, and support new talent. The Award provided Korwar with the additional financial backing required to complete the album, as well as expert mentoring from the charity’s trustees: the likes of Four Tet, Emanative, Floating Points, Koreless and Peterson.
Korwar was born in the US, but moved to India before completing his studies in London, where he is now based. Initially he has trained as a tabla player, but an interest in Jazz led him to study Jazz drumming and from there to explore how classical Indian percussion techniques could be applied to non-Indian instruments. Whilst in London, Korwar has performed with classical Indian musicians and from the jazz world – Shabaka Hutchings, Karl Berger, Cara Stacey and Arun Ghosh. This cosmopolitan background and cross-referencing of different traditions is manifest in “Day To Day”, Korwar’s truly captivating debut.
His music is an enthralling blend of Indian folk music, jazz and 21st century production, within the world fusion tradition of Don Cherry or Bengt Berger or more contemporary artists like Mala or Chassol. At its heart is the music of the Sidi community, an ethnic group in India and Pakistan that can trace their roots back to East Africa. Korwar recorded the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur whilst on a trip to India and their vocals and percussion form the genesis around which the compositional and creative processes emerge. The studio-based musicians take their inspiration from these field recordings responding to or developing themes around them.
Korwar has surrounded himself with kindred spirits, Shabaka Hutchings on sax and members of the Kefaya Collective – Guiliano Modarelli (guitar), Al McSween (keys) and Domenico Angarano (bass).
The results are wonderfully rich in texture and tone. At times the mood is quite minimal, ambient even. Tracks like “Dreaming” and “Lost Parade” create subtle immersive soundscapes with sparse melodic content.
Elsewhere the sound is progressive and more energised, such as “Bhajan” of “Indefinite Leave to Remain”, compositions that build and expand from repetitive chords.
Even within an album as strong as this two tracks stand out. I doubt whether I will hear anything as beautiful as “Karam’ for the rest of this year. Guiliano Modarelli’s guitar playing is exquisite; intimate and joyful in equal measure, with Indian as well as Spanish flamenco influences, over Angarano’s bass purring softly in the background. When the sampled voice comes in it’s passion perfectly matches the emotional tone.
The opening chants of “Bismillah” are reminiscent of an African-American spiritual’s call and response, with Hutchings extemporising in the fills. Slowly the track shifts through the gears, with ever more urgent solos from sax and keys to a point of ecstatic rapture.
The release, a joint venture between the Steve Reid Foundation and Ninja Tune, is a great starting point for Korwar and really stands out from the crowd. More please…