York music professor’s new jazz CD is a poignant take on India

York music professor and well-known sax player Sundar Viswanathan celebrates the release of his new CD, Hope and Infinity, today at the Trane Studio in downtown Toronto.

Raised in Sudbury, Ont., with South Indian Tamil roots, Viswanathan‘s latest collection of original compositions creatively fuses the musical foundations of his Indian birthplace and contemporary jazz. The songs on the recording encapsulate stories of tragedy, conflict, hope and healing.

Right: Sundar Viswanathan

“The Kanishka Suite”, tracks 1-3 on Hope and Infinity, pays tribute to the memory of the 329 victims of Air India Flight 182 which exploded on June 23, 1985, above the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ireland. In “Samsara”, the Buddhist and Hindu cycles of human life and death are depicted, while the promise of a release from these cycles is reflected in the late-night mood of “Moksha”.

“I spent a long time and much love crafting these tunes,” said Viswanathan. “This CD mirrors my musical world – a world where the vigor and spontaneity of jazz seamlessly blends with the deep wonders of South Asian classical music, creating music that will hopefully transport you to worlds of mood and imagery.”

Viswanathan’s music, including selections from Hope and Infinity, was featured May 5 on CBC Radio One’s broadcast, Big City, Small World, hosted by Garvia Bailey. Click here to listen to selections from Hope and Infinity.

Viswanathan assembled a group of pre-eminent artists to record his new works. The well-chosen Canadian heavies are York music instructors Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Kelly Jefferson (tenor sax) and Anthony Michelli (drums), along with David Braid (piano) and Andrew Downing (bass). New York-based Rez Abbasi’s guitar rounds out the sound.

Viswanathan has also recently plied his craft in dance. He wrote the music and lyrics for Collision/Collusion, a new production commissioned by Kathak dancer and York dance alumna Deepti Gupta (MA ’03). Viswanathan and his jazz ensemble performed the piece live with Gupta on May 4 and 5 at Toronto’s Robert Gill Theatre. Viswanathan was a natural choice for collaboration, as Gupta likes to stretch the boundaries of the traditional northern Indian dance by infusing Western influences.

“I have always wanted to do a jazz piece,” Gupta told the Toronto Star recently. “There are a lot of connections with Kathak: in the rhythms and the improvisation. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, to me Kathak is very jazzy.”

A highly versatile musician, Viswanathan is a saxophonist, composer, multi-reed instrumentalist and vocalist who has performed and taught extensively in the US and Canada. He leads his own quintet and has also played with and composed for other ensembles and artists such as the NEC Big Band, Ensemble Uniqua, Joe Lovano, Billy Hart, Jim McNeely, Jeanne Lee, Al Martino and Kenny Wheeler. His professional appearances include the Lincoln Center, the Count Basie Invitational Jazz Festival and leading New York jazz clubs such as the Blue Note, Village Gate and Birdland. He joined the jazz faculty in York’s Music Department in 2001.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, publicist, Faculty of Fine Arts.