An Evening With Stanley Jordan and Jay Kishor

An Evening With Stanley Jordan and Jay Kishor
by Jason West

Stanley Jordan's Magic Touch

Stanley Jordan's Live in New York

After a week of solo guitar performances at Seattle's Jazz Alley guitarist Stanley Jordan welcomed sitarist Jay (pronounced: Jie) Kishor to share the stage for a week-long "musical experiment" mixing Eastern and Western classical traditions. Although Jordan is not the first to combine the music of East and West (John Zorn and Dave Douglas immediately come to mind) his collaboration with Kishor offers one of the most intimate listening experiences available to present day audiences. Too intimate, perhaps, for some in attendance on Wednesday night who left early and were clearly not prepared to listen as closely as Jordan and Kishor's sensitive musical conversation demanded.

Yet, musicians in general and jazz musicians in particular are always challenging themselves and their audience to hear music in new ways; and, as a result, the majority of Jordan's fans were extremely appreciative of the unique and suggestive spirit that filled Jazz Alley.

The evening's set list provided an equal mix of Eastern and Western song forms with the Eastern-based ragas providing the most interesting listening. The appropriately timed "Sunset Raga" highlighted the duo's musical journey (in Indian classical tradition certain rags are meant to be performed at certain times of the day and night) as Jordan and Kishor patiently introduced each note of the rag's distinct scale. Free of rhythm at its inception, after five minutes - or was it 15? - tempo suddenly appeared in this hypnotic rag, creating momentum and providing foundation for Kishor's cobra-like runs. Seated barefoot in lotus position on a raised platform covered in Persian tapestries, Kishor relentlessly pushed the tempo while producing laser-tight vibrato from his instrument's 20 strings. Reaching a frenzied climax, "Sunset Rag" suddenly cut out of time and concluding in a floating lullaby, reminiscent of its beginning.

Fittingly, Jordan sounded very much the student in this Eastern setting, unable to match Kishor's deft attack. However, utilizing his trademark "touch technique" the prodigious American guitarist played the part of willing pupil, improvising well, and adding to the rag's sublime mood while exchanging approving glances with the sitar master Kishor.

The duo's Western-based pieces typically consisted of two or three repeatedly arpeggiated chords leading into a bridge: a simple formula for improvised playing. Rhythm was present, four beats to a measure, as Jordan took the lead and Kishor was capable in his background role. Yet, besides the foreign sound produced by the sitar - a metallic twang full of sympathetic overtones - there was nothing too exciting here. On the whole the Western duets retained the popular sound of today's contemporary "smooth" jazz.

In summarizing this concert, at least its Eastern aspects, "spirit" is the operative word. When Kishor, a native of India, asked to study music, his sitar guru/instructor said, "I cannot teach you music. I don't know what that is. I can, however, teach you how to pray in God's language." That language was in evidence this evening, for those willing to listen. According to Jordan, teaming with Kishor creates "new pathways for the development of the spirit" and focuses on "the essence of the spiritual, rather than virtuosity." This being the goal, it's safe to say that the Jordan/Kishor "experiment" was a success.

Stanley Jordan will be performing at the Jazz Alley in Seattle from July 18-23. Showtimes are: Tues.-Thurs: 8:00pm and 10:00pm, Fri.-Sat.: 8:30pm and 10:30pm. Sun-6pm and 8:30pm.

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Jason West