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JAZZ REVIEW : An Attempt to Blend East and West Music

February 01, 1988|DON HECKMAN

It wasn't a bad idea in principle: a jazz concert billed as "A Fusion of Eastern and Western Music." And the presence of such improvisational notables as violinist L. Subramaniam, saxophonist Ernie Watts, harpist Alice Coltrane, guitarist Larry Carlton and pianist David Benoit, and an interesting musical mix would seem to be in order.

Friday night's Royce Hall "Jazz Spectacular," however, only barely managed to deliver as advertised. There was indeed a generous portion of Western music, with a considerably smaller soupcon of Indian sounds. But "Fusion," the magic process that might have blended these complementary styles, was rarely evident.

What emerged instead was a kind of cut-and-paste job in which some very good but quite different improvisational elements simply took their places, side by side, hardly ever combining into a unified musical entity.

Subramaniam, the nominal leader of the ensemble, was more than generous in his allocation of solo space. Watts and Benoit started things off with a heated prance through a flamenco-like piece titled "Spanish Wave." Acoustic guitarist George Strunz and keyboardist Mark Massey provided an equally supercharged discourse on Subramaniam's "Conversation," and Carlton's electric guitar brightened "End of the Road."

The rapid-note technical displays finally ended with Watts' passionate, blues drenched alto sax variations on "I Can't Forget."

Alice Coltrane's brief appearance on two highly idiomatic harp improvisations was one of the evening's highlights. Generating a remarkable range of dynamic variations, she made a rare and effective case for the harp as a quality improvising instrument.

Subramaniam soloed briefly on most of the pieces, usually with great intensity, and almost always in Indian classical style. But it wasn't until the last number of the evening, appropriately titled "Ganges," that he finally managed, for a few moments, to fulfill the concert's promise by creating a genuine feeling of linkage between the music of East and West.

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