Order 'Tinte Baja'
A play on the traditional 'Panche Baja' or 5-Piece wedding bands of Nepal, 'Tinte Baja' presents a fresh look at the traditional jazz saxophone trio.
Featuring Martin Nevin on acoustic bass and Sean Mullins on drums, the record highlights a rediscovery of traditional folk melodies through a creative lens, bridging two contrasting sonic worlds
Follow the link on the left to the bandcamp store where you can purchase the debut recording.
Read the interview below with Pawan and Pianist and Richard Sears about the recording and Pawan's musical process and upbrininging.
- interview with Pawan Benjamin -
by Richard Sears
This concert previews the release of Pawan Benjamin’s debut recording Tinte Baja. I sat down to chat with Pawan about his music and this album, and what you see here is an edited interview from that conversation.
I had heard that you stopped playing saxophone at some point. Could you talk about that?
I took a break form saxophone after I graduated Manhattan School of Music, and started playing the bansuri, and studying North Indian classical music and Hindustani vocals. There is a spiritual connection I felt with that music - and with jazz, too - that I lost touch with while in college. It wasn’t till I moved to India for almost 2 years that I started playing saxophone again.
Tell me about how you approach playing the bansuri flute.
The bansuri has been adapted to classical music over the century, but originally an instrument from folk music. A lot of the time I spent studying the bansuri was just learning Nepali folk melodies. There is so much power in the simplicity of folk music, which really opened up to me while taking time off the saxophone.
Where do you think that power comes from?
I think it has something to do with the narratives associated with the lyrics, which give the melodies a layer of profundity. In institutionalized music, that element seems to be forgotten. I remember my mother telling me that in a Nepalese wedding band, for instance, each phrase of music would cue a moment in the wedding ceremony. I find that connecting music to a sense of story gives direction to my improvisation.
Coming up in Madison, Wisconsin, what was your introduction to music like?
I was a visual art student in highschool, and wasn’t part of a band program. One of my earliest teachers was Hanah Jon Taylor, a transplant from Chicago and saxophonist still associated with AACM. He had an immense sound. He never played standards, and always encouraged me to find my own voice. I would get together with him and some older guys from Chicago, and we would just improvise together for hours. He never cared about what we were playing, only how we were playing.
I also studied with Roscoe Mitchell, who lived in Madison at the time. I would go to Roscoe’s before school to practice with him. I’d arrive at 6:30, and he’d have been practicing since 5. He was in his 70s at that time. I had the chance to perform Roscoe’s music with him a few times in high school. He had a very methodical approach to his writing and playing, and watching him work, in lessons and leading his bands, sparked a serious drive in my own playing.
I am only beginning to understand the depth of those experiences with Hanah and Roscoe. These were my earliest memories of playing the saxophone. Being almost 30 now, I finally feel the comfort and strength to play from that space again.
Which brings us to the record, which sounds beautiful by the way. Tell me about the name and the music.
Tinte Baja is a play on Panche Baja, the name for a traditional 5-piece Nepali wedding band. The record features Martin Nevin and Sean Mullins, who played on my senior recital at MSM almost 10 years ago. There are a few solo pieces where I used melodic material and inspiration from raga music. Growing up in the states as a Nepali American, it is hard to connect with the Nepalese culture. With those solo pieces especially I am trying to access that connection through the Nepalese musical and spiritual language.