Binaries in Cycle (Woven Strands Productions)

Keshav Batish

Released July 2021

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2021

YouTube:

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_m285Vi6sBvVoTURTYiOK7cHx3oDsdZI2g

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/album/5ApdfAerWUHBcWChtwAiVB?si=N93T5G8WSHyqgG1UfCrl5g

About:

Leading with clarity of purpose from the drumkit, Keshav Batish hones a personal, multifaceted sound as a player and composer with Binaries in Cycle, his debut album, featuring alto saxophonist Shay Salhov, pianist Lucas Hahn and bassist Aron Caceres. When the group gathered to record Binaries in Cycle at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, in Batish’s current home city of Santa Cruz, the beloved performance space was empty. It was August 3, 2020, the height of the COVID pandemic. Despite adverse circumstances, Batish and the quartet rose above to deliver stirring performances of five original pieces, plus inventive readings of Ornette Coleman’s “Police People” and Thelonious Monk’s “We See.”
Now completing a Master’s in Composition at UC Santa Cruz, Batish is a lifelong musical disciple of his father, Pandit Ashwin Batish. He is of khandani lineage as the third generation of musicians in his family. His grandfather, S.D. Batish, was trained in Hindustani music and wore the hats of Bollywood playback singer, composer and arranger, scholar, and multi-instrumentalist. His father spent his childhood learning to play the sitār while also learning Beatles songs on guitar. “As his son and apprentice,” Batish says, “listening to and eventually playing his music clued me into hybridity before I knew the word or what it would come to mean to me.”

Batish is now a virtuoso performer on sitār and tablā as well as drumset, with a deep and ever-evolving knowledge of Hindustani music — which impacts his approach to jazz composition and improvisation in turn. “The way temporality functions in Hindustani music has greatly shaped how I approach adorning time with rhythm,” Batish remarks. In his liner notes to Binaries in Cycle, he refers to the “two cultural poles… palpable in my musical practice. To one side is rāg, an embodiment of musical shapes and architecture that yields a distinct character. To the other side is the blues, which represents a certainty in uncertainty, caught in the interstices of notes and yielding an intonation of one’s identity…” With a fluid, authoritative sense of swing, Batish and his colleagues navigate these two cultural poles and find creative simpatico through every leg of the journey.
Among its many meanings, the term Binaries can refer to the twinned concept of khali (“empty”) and bhari (“full”) in the tālā system of rhythm in North India. “Each rhythmic cycle has an element of both, empty and full, that serves as an aural cue for the practitioner to embody each tāl’s pattern,” Batish explains. Binaries can also allude to gender, and to Batish’s experience as a queer artist of color “There is a certain amount of inventing new language to explain something that was previously only able to be identified as a feeling,” he adds.

Binaries in Cycle also captures the ethos of the music itself. “Count Me In,” with dark harmony and intricate contrapuntal ideas, is based on the morning rāg or rāg todi, while the calmer but gradually building “Let Go” is derived from the twilight rāg or rāg marwa. The patiently unfolding “Gāyatri” takes its name from the gāyatri mantra, an ancient chant from the rig veda that follows a poetic meter. There’s an edge of intensity and invention — in the winding saxophone line of the opening title track, in the asymmetric groove patterns of “Wingspan” — that reveals a band deeply rooted in modern jazz vernacular, drawing from a confluence of languages and traditions that heighten the album’s exploratory spirit.
Of Monk’s infectious “We See,” Batish offers, “Monk’s music represents to me a means of subverting the intonational structures of harmony on piano such that higher partials in the overtone series can be voiced in chords. I truly regard Monk as a mystic himself.” Batish and the group also tackle “Police People,” an initially unreleased track from Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny’s Song X, heard later on Metheny’s The Unity Sessions. “To me, Ornette represents a freedom of expression that came at a steep cost. His life story bears mentioning, as he was frequently beat up for his sound. He spoke gently with a lisp, which didn’t vibe with the hyper-masculinity of the folks he was encountering on the bandstand. His work extends from him at an energetic level — a queering of music to ‘remove the caste system from sound,’ as he put it.”

During an interval between tunes at the live-with-no-audience Binaries in Cycle session, Batish told the assembled camera crew but also streaming listeners far and wide, “I hope you keep your eyes open so we can all see together.” At a time of hope and renewal, Batish’s ambitious debut, full of fire and eloquence, is indeed a welcome sight.

Track Listing:

1. Binaries in Cycle (Keshav Batish) 12:37

2. Count Me In (Keshav Batish) 08:14

3. Let Go (Keshav Batish) 07:15

4. Police People (Ornette Coleman) 08:03

5. Wingspan (Keshav Batish) 12:19

6. Gayatri (Keshav Batish) 08:13

7. We See (Thelonious Monk) 06:07

Personnel:

Keshav Batish: drum set
Shay Salhov: alto saxophone
Lucas Hahn: piano
Aron Caceres: double bass

Recorded August 3, 2020, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, CA

Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by David Egan
Photography: Tino Novello
Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker

Review:

The debut album from Santa Cruz-based drummer Keshav Batish, 2021’s dynamic Binaries in Cycle, is a cohesive blend of hard-driving post-bop and Indian Classical Traditions. As the son of sitar virtuoso Pandit Ashwin Batish and grandson of singer Shiv Dayal Batish, Batish grew up surrounded by Hindustani and North Indian Classical music. He played sitar and tabla from a young age, eventually discovering jazz and settling on the drum set as his main instrument. A graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz, Batish brings all of his varied experience to bear in his quartet, which features pianist Lucas Hahn, bassist Aron Caceres, and Israeli-born alto saxophonist Shay Salhov. The album was recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center as part of their virtual performance series. Consequently, there’s an urgency and raw intensity to the group’s playing that feels as if they are reaching out to their audience and trying to make an emotional connection. Batish plays with a deft, often light touch that recalls the work of veterans like Paul Motian as much as contemporary luminaries like Brian Blade. Similarly, both Salhov and Hahn are adventurous improvisers whose playing nicely brings to mind the work of artists like Kenny Garrett and Geri Allen. Batish’s originals are propulsive and harmonically nuanced, displaying the edgy tonalities and motivic influence of John Coltrane. There’s also a sense that as a queer artist of color, Batish is pulling together the disparate threads that make up his identity. It’s a vibrant combination best represented on his original pieces like “Count Me In” and “Wingspan,” dazzling modal songs that crash and shatter like glass tidal waves on a rocky shore. He also reveals his deep sense of the jazz tradition, dipping into Thelonious Monk’s rambling “We See” and transforming Ornette Coleman’s “Police People” into a buoyant raga dance party anchored by his and Caceres’ thick droning interplay. With Binaries in Cycle, Batish impressively balances his jazz and Indian Classicial influences, crafting an intensely colorful aural world view.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)