Taking refuge in differences

Taking refuge in differences

Improvised set

Taking refuge in differences

He was just four years old when he began playing the piano and since then, there has been no looking back for musician Aman Mahajan.

A City-based jazz artiste, he has seen his interest in music grow over the years.
His latest project is called ‘REFUGE’; it is a jazz/world ensemble that plays interpretations of musical themes written by him. In keeping with the spirit of jazz, the musicians play chosen themes and then improvise on them. What sets this apart from a standard jazz format is the overall sound and influence of classical/folk music from various parts of the world.

With no fixed line-up, Aman uses this as an opportunity to experiment and move freely. Talking more about ‘REFUGE’, he says...

How was the set conceptualised?

The set is a collection of musical themes I’ve written over the years, from around 2005 to today. Some of them have been written in fragments, with an early idea being further arranged much later. Because they’ve all been arranged over the past three years, the ‘REFUGE’ set does have a definite sound even though the pieces are really quite different from each other.

You mentioned that there isn’t a fixed line-up but are there any particular instruments you like to work with?

I most often perform this set with Matt Littlewood (saxophone), Mishko M’ba (electric bass) and Jeoraj George (drumset). To me, this jazz quartet format is the most familiar sound of the ensemble. However, I do like to have other musicians’ voices in as well. This year, ‘REFUGE’ has collaborated with Aleksandra Denda (NYC-based Serbian vocalist) and Yuichiro Tokuda (Japanese saxophonist) resulting in two completely different musical experiences. There have also been a number of other musicians who’ve played on the tunes recently, including Kartikeya Srivastava (drums), Abhinav Khokhar (bass), Tarun Balani (drums), Saya Boyadzhiev (drums), Isaac Smith (bass), Maarten Visser (saxophone) and others. In the future, I would also like to perform this music outside a jazz quartet/trio setting, for example with Indian folk or classical musicians.

What kind of genre(s) does ‘REFUGE’ draw from?

As this is a project I lead, I allow all my influences to come together compositionally, creating an aesthetic that most easily fits under the jazz umbrella. The music is essentially written and performed in the spirit of jazz, with musical influences from various styles, cultures and musical traditions.

How much of the set is improvised and how much is composed?

Structurally, the music is about equal parts composed and improvised, though the sections with improvisation are usually much longer than the written ones. So the music is always quite different based on the performance and the musicians playing.

What is ‘REFUGE’ about?

On one hand, ‘REFUGE’ is about arranging and performing my own compositions with other musicians. However, these compositions are intended to create spaces to explore, communicate, improvise and create, not purely in any format or style, but eventually with any musician from any tradition/part of the world. So, it’s also about honesty, open communication and the idea of unity.

What do you expect of the other musicians?

We are expected to communicate honestly, be spontaneous with our musical ideas, and present our sense of aesthetic (of course, in keeping with the overall mood and structure of each piece). I welcome the differences in sound that result from playing with different musicians, or even from the same musicians at different times. The only musical pre-requisite is fluency in communication on one’s instrument.

As told to Ananya Revanna

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