Some of the most exciting musical collaborations are happening between jazz, classical and world musicians these days. Musicians have always fed off interaction with other players, but the sheer variety of music that is available coupled with access to international artists has led to some truly exquisite sounds. In the classical world the work of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and its spinoff collaborations between Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider come to mind, and of course, the by now venerable Kronos Quartet and maverick violinist Giles Apap. In the jazz world the same foment is apparent (the kora seeming to be the instrument of choice these days, appearing alongside jazz heavies) and when the world music extravaganza of GlobalFEST blew into town in January, it brought Nguyen Lê's "Saiyuki" with it.
Lê's name is practically synonymous with polyglot music; witness allaboutjazz.com describing his 2006 CD "Homescape" as a combination of "post-Hendrix rock, Milesian harmon-mute free improv, Maghrebi trance music, Ellingtonia, ambient, a Papua New Guinea vocal choir. . .Delta blues, Vietnamese folk tunes, flamenco, Iranian modes, a Sardinian choir, Australian aboriginal ritual music, French chanson, Gregorian chant, and Indonesian gamelan/gong music." The man is eclectic, and joyfully so.
"Saiyuki," his latest aggregate, is a trio. In it, he has brought together Mieko Miyazaki (Japan) on koto and Prabhu Edouard (India) on tablas. (Lê played his backups in mid to low range to fatten up an otherwise treble sound.) The group's performance was one of the highlights of GlobalFEST, and I'm glad I got a chance to catch it on video, even with the uneven sound, and video quality attendant on these kinds of situations. . .note the shattered glass sound from the bar. . .oh well.
Each player brought so much of their own culture along that at times it seemed more like the music was "jazz enabled," with that form giving the musicians a more liberal harmonic matrix and greater freedom to fly. But the end result was something unusual and hard to classify; I guess "world music" as a term still has its uses.