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November 2008

Dave Pietro
The Chakra Suite
Challenge Records

Chakras, for anyone who hasn’t taken a yoga class, are seven “body centers” (the first, Muladhara, is at the base of the spine, for instance) that also represent spiritual and emotional elements of the body, in addition to the physical. Saxophonist Dave Pietro, commissioned to write a musical piece by the New Works: Creation and Presentation Program of Chamber Music America, used the chakras “solely as an organizing principle” in creating The Chakra Suite, performed here by his sextet, including Rez Abbasi (guitars), Gary Versace (keyboards), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass), Adam Cruz (drums) and Todd Isler (percussion). It isn’t unusual for artists to create based on some outside structure or idea, and it isn’t unusual for that structure or idea not to be apparent to an audience, such is the case here. For example, in Bill Milkowski’s liner notes, Pietro, referring to the fifth chakra, Vishuddha, which is in the throat and hence evokes communication, says that it suggested to him creating a blues: “What better way to tell your story than through the blues?”

The connection may seem tentative, but happily the playing is not. Whatever the organizing principle, The Chakra Suite really consists of some excellent music that has at its base a mild version of the free, new-thing sound of the ’60s as heard in the work of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, obvious touchstones for Pietro’s playing, mixed with elements of traditional Indian and Brazilian music. The more exotic and unusual colors in the music typically are provided by varying the instrumentation. Abbasi breaks out a sitar guitar at times; Versace turns to the accordion on the Brazilian-flavored “Svadhisthana”; and Isler employs lots of Brazilian and Indian percussion. Meanwhile, Pietro achieves tonal variety by switching from his alto to a soprano sax (on “Manipura”), as well as picking up F-mezzo and C-melody horns on occasion. There are also structural elements that suggest the musical styles, such as the Indian drone that forms the basis for the first part of “Vishuddha.” This certainly isn’t music to do yoga to, but it follows a longstanding jazz tradition of enlivening the music by incorporating musical elements indigenous of other countries.

Originally published in November 2008
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