Marc Rossi Band, Amstel Quartet 
Innova Rec.      Marc Rossi Band : Mantra revealed (US,2011)***°

Marc Rossi's group's foundation is that of a jazz band, but also of a Jazz/Fusion band, with at least one huge track, which expands this with something a lot more ambitious. This 13 minute track reveals a few elements with which this is built up. There's an at first rather fastly played electric slide guitar playing Indian style with waterfall formed fret-movements, which show itself with their own moments of (lead) improvisation. Quickly, when the themes become more arranged, this changes to a melodic fusion-guitar style, when the keyboards start to dominate with more symphonic progressions, also the guitar becomes a more melodic part of the composition. The drums lead all the theme changes with a subtle complexity in rhythm. If I heard well the brass additions are also completely one with the keyboard(/guitar) leads. There are also Indian styled rhythmic singing improvisations mixed in style with jazz styled wordless voice/word-like improvisation. Within this first composition there are lots of sections, the composition itself fluently transforms itself from one section to the next. Some of the keyboards are texturing with chords a bit, which gives an almost symphonic prog(rock) feeling to the arrangements, being more melodic than harmonising, a few dramatic rhythm accents are included with it as well. A last small part gives a little place for more Indian slide-guitar only improvisation. 

The second (intro) and third track digs deeper into jazz itself, improvising still with an Indian singing theme on top, expanding it with several sax solos with the right melodic/rhythmic piano accompaniment. After including a small lead electric bass solo, the jazz-melodic sensibility takes over again, develops nicely a rather melodic swing (with a nice sax/bass/drums/singing cooperation) with powerful grooviness and nice alternation. 

The next few tracks leave out the most ambitious challenge and creativity, and improvise further with their jazz(/fusion) improvisation abilities and the band's cooperative energy. The fourth track is more of a one-composer idea, where different instruments play simultaneously the lead melodic evolution. It still is swinging well melodically. And there's an electric guitar solo that has a pretty wildness inside increasing its energy melodically, before calming a bit against the moody melodic fusion core flow. The fifth (intro) and 6th track are a more stylistic jazz-fusion improvisation on a relaxed rhythm with melodic solo leads on electric bass and soprano sax. Also the 7th track seems to be based upon a more Latin-flavoured rhythm introduced with a creative variation of it by the piano. It has therefore a lighter swing. It still has interesting attention in the drumming. The 8th track is piano only, while the last track is again with the full band, no surprises. To a degree there are two sorts of bands here, with the jazz foundation style which might take some listeners back to safety, in what they find more predictable, in a good sense, and decently performed.

Marc Rossi Group is Marc Rossi on piano, keyboards and laptop, Lance Van Lenten on tenor and soprano sax, Bill Urmson on electric bass and Mauricio Zottarelli on drums and percussion. The Indian guitarist on track one was of course Prasanna. The Indian vocalist was Geetha Ramanathan Bennett. Bruce Arnold was guest guitarists on two other tracks.

Marc Rossi studied Composition at New England Conservatory (NEC), studied further with Frank Bennett (composition and orchestration), William Thomas McKinley (composition), Charlie Banacos (jazz improvisation), Peter Row (North Indian Music and sitar), and Ben Schwendener (Lydian Chromatic Concept), now currently is also a teacher at the University. Other contributions include Jimmy Guiffre 4, Natraj, The Robert Moore Quartet, and George Russell’s Living Time Orchestra, but he also composed for classical orchestras.

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Amstel Rec.      Amstel Quartet featuring Niti Ranjan Biswas : Amstel Raga (NL/IND/IR,2010)****

​The Amstel Quartet of sax players are curious and explorative, and with a classical background, they step from one approach to the next. In this album, they have a guiding line of exploring Indian music and its variations, translated also into their own language, meeting the classical western approach of composing but often also having an Indian jazz side effect, a genre which only is explored just now and then and which this release seems to contribute and add a vision of their own. To make the bond complete, Indian tabla player Niti Ranjan Biswas, who is a tabla teacher in Rotterdam and Amsterdam conservatory was invited to take part. First tried merely as an encounter, to improvise on raga themes, the group decided to take it one step further. They assigned several composers with a reputation to make crosspoints to compose for their quartet with the extra tabla. 

So we have here the participation of Irish composer Ian Wilson who once wrote a piece for tabla and string quartet and which he rearranged for the occasion and several Dutch composers Oene Van Geel, Sylvia Maessen, Marion Von Tiltzer and Martin Fondse who was interpreting themes of Indian cinema, while mostly tabla and Indian rhythmical vocal parts bind the themes well together, mostly organised by Niti Ranjan Biswas. 

It is rewarding that the group on one track imitated such Indian rhythmical vocal themes, in their own European way and, compared to the Indian heritage, in fact less complex way of rhythmical vocals, to create, with a free mind, an amusing contemporary mode interpretation of it in one of the Indian cinema themes. “Karmatikka” sounds like a kind of Moondog’s “Pax for Sax” approach to a Carnatic music association; this still is like a contemporary piece with the inclusion of Indian percussion and melodically playing while dealing with certain rhythms. The Indian cinema themes after that are clearly composed for fun and are played in a pretty light hearted way. The last theme sounds more like roaring 20s jazz. “Heaven Lay Close” is a piece that deals with the inclusion of the tabla while making rather classical music for a small brass ensemble. “Shruut” is again different: it calmly improvises around a tempura drone, bubbling its way to a rhythmical life of its own via a minimalist morning raga. “Todi, where did you go?” shows well the Indian mode idea translated into a brass ensemble arrangement, which is explored and worked out with some contemporary music feel and classical harmony. The concluding track, “Wheel of Fortune (2009)” plays once more with the presence of an accompanying rhythm but freely develops and works out its own contemporary melody in it.

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