Drummers as composers and band leaders are once again finding their (rightful) place at the forefront of modern jazz, aided and abetted by the influence of the Mark Guilianas and Yusuf Dayes’ of the world. Aman Jagwani is a drummer, composer and Berklee student who is making full use of his talents and musical education. His recent release, This Place, is a well written and produced work that not only brings together all his diverse influences, but also showcases the breadth of his musical knowledge.
Aman’s primary collaborator on this album is Mumbai based singer Anubha Kaul. I needed a conversation with Aman to fully understand the extent of Anubha’s contribution and vice versa. Neither of them are vocal about their own roles, instead preferring to talk about each other’s invaluable contributions. What is obvious though is that the two of them work very well together, evident throughout the album as the emotional tone of the music (composed by Aman) is complimented and reinforced by the lyrics (largely written by Anubha). Now (track 6) is a perfect example of this, and my current favourite.
The aptly named Breakthrough was the first song written for this project. It was a production experiment for one of Aman’s courses at school but quickly took on a life of its own and turned into a complete track. It also “activated his compositional flow” ( he says ) and led to the full album being written over the next couple of months. Mark Guiliana’s influence is overtly on display here, with the final third of the song an obvious tribute to the Mehliana tune Just Call Me Nige. The keyboard work from Ron Cha, not just on Breakthrough but on most of the songs, is excellent and fits in perfectly with the sound of the album.
Ron is one of the many wonderful collaborators who’ve helped bring this album to life. Foremost amongst these is trumpet wizard and Berklee assistant professor Jason Palmer. Jason’s solo is the highlight of Elastic Slumber, a song that talks about people’s selective perceptions / confirmation biases based on convenience as opposed to being able to view the world objectively. The word elastic also refers to how sleep habits and consciousness are stretched or compressed, says Aman. The music highlights these themes, oscillating between fast ( compressed ) and open ( stretched ) sections. I do find the drum parts during the trumpet solo to be excessively busy which takes away focus and detracts from Jason’s playing.
Anubha’s contributions to this album go far beyond her beautiful voice and lyrical duties. She is also the composer for ‘Rain on my Shelter’, a song that talks about how modern life prevents people from taking time out for themselves until they reach a breaking point. Trace Zakur’s tenor saxophone through the song only helps intensify its contradictory dissonance, already hinted at by the comforting sonic atmosphere underneath the distressed lyrical content. The balladesque direction for a song in 7/4 points to Aman’s imaginativeness as an arranger.
Another point Aman mentions is that the drums were recorded at his home in Goa with only 4 relatively inexpensive microphones and inputs. This might be a reason for the overly processed drum sound, but the end result works really well, sonically and thematically. Credit goes to Aman and Dishaan Gidwani ( mix engineer ) for the ideas and overall audio quality of the album.
I do find the drum work to be neither as tight nor as crisp as I’d like in places. Aman mentions that he decided not to record to a click as his playing style is reactive and interactive. While being able to speed up and slow down are invaluable tools, I find that the inconsistencies in note length and value can be off putting at times. More so when the music utilizes time signatures like 17/16, ending a bar with a loose, slowed down triplet fill that doesn’t resolve perfectly in time only adds ambiguity to the section.
It makes me wonder if the line has another 16th note added intentionally or things just slowed down a tad too much. Not having a crisp frame of reference also takes away from the effect that Aman is trying to achieve with metric modulations and complex rhythmic ideas through the songs. Additionally, recording such music remotely (with musicians spread all over the world due to the pandemic) is no easy task, and doubly difficult to get right without a click track. But the quality of the musicians as well as the production and compiling done by Aman and Dishaan ensures that all the instruments (and the vocals) sound tight and fit well.
This Place is a collection of seven well written songs tied together by a cohesive yet adventurous musical and lyrical theme. The title track (and album name) are a play on the word displace, with the song telling it’s listeners to displace themselves to a better situation ( emotionally, physically etc ). With This Place, Aman, Anubha and their ensemble cast of talented collaborators have created an album which straddles that fine line between asking listeners to expand their musical horizons while still being accessible, memorable and easy to recall.