Elephant Walk was a contemporary jazz album that was recorded by Amit Heri in New York in the year 1998 and released in 1999. But the album did not take off as well as it should have, and the album was re-released in India last week. The album has Matthew Garrison on bass, Peter Rende on keys, Marko Djordjevic on drums, Matt Renzi on saxophones and Praveen Rao on tabla, pakhawaj and kanjira, along with Amit on guitars. Amit Heri, for those who do not know, is a Bangalore-based musician and has worked with various world music veterans like Trilok Gurtu, Louiz Banks, Shankar Mahadevan, Sivamani etc. His most famous work so far in India has been his musical score for the Hindi movie Morning Raga, alongside Manisharma.
The title song which kickstarts the album is quintessential jazz fusion. While the first half belongs to Matt Renzi with some brilliant use of sax, Amit Heri follows up with his guitar in the second. Amit also puts in Praveen Rao’s Konnakol (vocal percussion) towards the end, which blends in well with the song. On the whole an ideal song to start off a contemporary jazz album.
While Amit stamps his mastery over jazz in the first song, Alaap, as its name indicates, belongs mostly to the Indian classical genre. I say mostly, as Amit does manage to “jazz up” this song as well in between. The initial elaborate alaap by Amit Heri reminds one of Mandolin Srinivas and Guitar Prasanna. While Praveen Rao plays the tabla, Matt Renzi accentuates the lounge effect with his sax. With its instrumentation and classical mood, you could as well have been listening to a Mynta or a Remember Shakti track!! John McLaughlin would be proud.
Welcome back to jazz!! This song sees a long and engaging duel between Matt Renzi and Peter Rende, before they make way for a superb solo by Amit. And Praveen ends the song in style with another of his Konnakol sequences. Wonder who is accompanying him though. Going by the diction I would imagine that it is another Indian, in which case the only other possible candidate is Amit Heri himself.
Dance of Daya
The drums and the classical on sax which I think is in Raag Todi (Subhapanthuvarali in Carnatic), strongly reminded me of Shankar Jaikishen’s Raga Jazz Style, which had a track in Todi. I am not talking of plagiarism here mind you, just that the style is reminiscent of that track. And the sudden shift of Matt to jazz mode makes one almost think that he is going off scale!!
Where Ah Yah Going
Though the initial electric guitaring by Amit has a slight classical tinge to it, this song can be termed as an almost pure rhythm and blues song. The song is totally about Matt, Amit and Pete as they take you through five minutes of total relaxation.
What’s That Smell
This one IS pure jazz. Matt Renzi makes best use of this solo of his, excellently backed by Pete on keys, Matt Garrison on the bass and Marko on the drums.
True to its name, this blues number sees all artists except Praveen come into action. Marko’s role is minimal however, as the song features very light percussion. A soft song to mark the end of the album.
It is quite strange, not to mention unfortunate, that this album never became recognized when it first released in 1999. I am guessing it might have been due to the lack of popularity of jazz fusion in India at that time. Considering the increased interest of people in World music today, Elephant Walk must surely get due recognition this time around. Which is probably why the music label IndiaBeat and EMI Virgin are re-releasing the album now. You can listen to the album on Amit’s website.