From Jimi Hendrix in swinging London to the Art Ensemble of Chicago in the protest-roiled Paris of 1968, groundbreaking American musicians have found an audience and honed their sound abroad before returning home to make their mark. For New York pianist Richard X Bennett, the path to his arresting raga jazz repertoire runs through India, where he’s recorded a series of acclaimed albums for the nation’s largest record label (and several classical labels as well). Though Bennett has spent almost three decades playing a diverse array of music on the New York scene, his two new albums serve as an eye-opening introduction to this bracingly original jazz artist. With his first U.S. albums under his own name slated for release on Ropeadope Records, Bennett’s mesmerizing raga-powered quintet project Experiments With Truth and melodically charged trio session What Is Nowannounce the emergence of a major voice unlike any other on the American scene.
Both albums feature the dynamic rhythm section tandem of bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Alex Wyatt, with the Experiments session expanded by Lisa Parrott on baritone saxophone and Matt Parker on tenor and soprano sax. More than the addition of the horns, what sets the two projects apart is the quintet concept, which brings music that Bennett originally conceived and performed with North Indian classical musicians into a jazz context.
Bennett says the quintet’s repertoire is “kind of like Mingus meets raga in the 21st century. This is the first time I’ve brought this music back into jazz instrumentation. I don’t claim to be a raga musician, because first off, the piano isn’t a raga instrument. I’d say it’s raga-based. I like the analogy they use on cooking shows, ‘This is my take on a dosa.’ As a jazz musician, this is my take on raga,” the vast vocabulary of melodic structures, or modes, upon which classical Indian music is based.