Barry Livingston Group
In June, I had the pleasure of hearing the Barry Livingston Group perform music from its first release, Bridges, at a house concert. It was a beautiful evening of inspired music and music-making. The CD, recorded live at Toronto’s magical Musideum (alas, recently closed) does the music – all Livingston’s – justice.
Livingston is an exceptionally gifted (yet modest) pianist and composer. A University of Toronto graduate who spent many productive years on the west coast before returning to Ontario, Livingston deftly traverses musical borders, incorporating the diverse influences of mainstream jazz, South Indian and Asian music, Latin jazz and bossa nova into his writing. Fittingly, the Toronto-based group comprises some of the most in-demand musicians from the jazz and world music scenes.
Standouts for me include Suba Sankaran’s languid vocals on the Muhal Richard Abrams-inspired Dreaming Eloquence, and her sublime, South Indian-style intro to Peace – Part 1.
The group shines on the Metheny-esque Windcatcher – inspired, in fact, by Metheny’s close associate, keyboardist Lyle Mays. Sankaran’s voice is luminous, Colleen Allen’s sax playing is gorgeous and expansive, and Livingston achieves the open sound and wider tonal palette he was aiming for, according to his liner notes. Bassist Kobi Hass and drummer Paul Fitterer round out the sound with their superb, understated and tasteful playing.
Sheila’s Bounce, dedicated to jazz great Sheila Jordan, really swings. Sankaran does some mean scatting and Allen is right on and right there with her. Straight ahead good fun. A stellar first release!
The Top 10 Bands Making Fusion Music
posted by Staff, July 13, 2014
In Autorickshaw’s music there are only three main elements: vocals, bass and the distinct sound of tabla percussions, a type of Indian percussion instrument. Yet their music is anything but simple. They have an eastern infused jazz sound and one can’t help but get caught up in the whirlwind of Suba Sankaran’s mesmerizing vocals. Her voice paired with the tabla and bass make for a feet-tapping combination. This summer they’ll be touring jazz festivals in Ottawa, Toronto and Oakville.
All About Jazz 2008
A winning argument could be made for Toronto as a multi-cultural city like no other, New York included. Through its veins flow the tradition of numerous nations, including India. Music is one of the traditions that hold sway, not only in ethnic exposition but also in collaborations where tradition and modernism blend.
Toronto band Autorickshaw has, for the past five years, been bringing to the fore a musical hybrid that draws from Indian classical music, jazz, folk and other world musical strains to come up with an enchanting and fascinating amalgam.
Autorickshaw continues the tradition with So The Journey Goes. Singer Suba Sankaran shows that she can get to the emotional depth in both Indian classical singing and jazz. Both are improvisatory, but the harmony is different and the ability to bridge the two is an accomplishment.
The title track starts as a jazz tune. Sankaran has the syncopated phrasing that captures the pulse of jazz. She pulls off a nice surprise when she goes into Indian classical singing. The arrangement is perfect for the tradition and so is Sankaran, who then leaps into vocalese in one clean swoop. The instrumentation revolves on an array of Indian percussion and the whooping bass of Rich Brown.
Sankaran is also adept at singing compositions based on both the linear and non-linear scales of a raga. “Vara Sapta Swara” encompasses major and minor tonalities. It is no mean accomplishment to evoke the mood, but Sankaran is deeply ingrained in the raga and she sings with a soft billow to capture the twin tonalities. The instrumental backing is lean with Ed Hanley (tablas) being the main, yet complementary, accompanist.
“Nalina Kanthi” is based on the nalinkantha raga. It was written by Trichy Sankaran, a leading exponent of Indian classical music and multi-instrumentalist who plays the mridangam, kanjira and solkattu here. This is another beautiful evocation and exposition, the non-linear path finding clusters of vocalizing with short intonations. The singer has to be aware of the concept and divine it with intuition, and Sankaran does that perfectly.
Autorickshaw keeps pushing the edges in its journey for something new and challenging. The group has found it both on record and in its many live performances. But the beat goes on for this band and it will be interesting to see what they come up with in the future.
Track listing: So the Journey Goes; Manju Nihar; Bird on a Wire; Aaj ki Raat; Chana; Vara Sapta Swara; Surya; Nalina Kanthi; Maa; Heavy Traffic.
Personnel: Suba Sankaran: voice, body percussion, solkattu, kanjira; piano; Ed Hanley; tabla, udu, cajon; Rich Brown; bass, gimbri, palmas, pandeiro; Debashis Sinha: multi-drum kit; riqq, body percussion, morsing, tambourine, palmas; George Koller:dilruba; Kevin Breit: guitar; John Gzowski: guitar.
by Jerry D’Souza, All About Jazz
Toronto’s Autorickshaw is one of those groups beloved by Queen East hipsters, CBC producers and Canada Council types. But behind all the multi-culti hype and global village platitudes lie some serious musical chops.
Like the subcontinental taxi that is their namesake, the group takes audiences on a sometimes bumpy but always exhilarating musical journey, twisting and turning through Indian classical forms, straight-ahead jazz, Bollywood pop and downtown club beats.
Autorickshaw has played jazz, folk and world music festivals from Vancouver to Stockholm, and their live performances have gained a reputation for soulful intensity.
Sankaran has a sensuous, supple voice…her sense of phrasing, expression and tone are immaculate.
Her artistic pedigree is impressive. Her father is Trichy Sankaran, the respected classical Indian music scholar and percussion master, who had performed with the group in an 8 p.m. concert in the same church.
The graceful South Indian folk song Manju Nihar and the tea-and-oranges perfumed cover of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire were both standouts, and her singing was able to shine unimpeded in the Mingus tune Goodbye Porkpie Hat, set to thoughtful lyrics by Joni Mitchell, which Sankaran performed as a duet with her bassist.
-Natasha Gauthier, The Ottawa Citizen
Autorickshaw – So the Journey Goes (Independent)
This Toronto combo is based on the sounds of India, but wired through contemporary jazz and funk, a hard concept to get your head around without hearing it, it’s such a unique blend. Just think of Indian music, then imagine it funky and grooving.
Most of Suba Sankaran’s vocals are Indian, except for a tremendous and quite different take on Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire. Yes, grooving to Cohen. Sankaran has a superior voice, leading her listeners in and out of a trance, even with a wild jazz-scat to the accompanying Indian-tuned percussion, a vocal feat worth the price alone.
The rest of the group, as well as guests such as Kevin Breit and George Koller, seamlessly blend two musical cultures, based on North American youth music and a new fascination with the intricacies of traditional Indian composition. Fusion at its best.
Halifax Daily News
“Mixing jazzy and funky licks with Indian spice, Autorickshaw singer Suba Sankaran has an uncanny ability to phrase a song.
Hearing her live would be a soulful experience. The album includes an original take on Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, and a great rap about south Indian train stops.
The last time Indian-fused music sounded so good was Kula Shaker’s acid rock-filled Tatva and K.”Image
AUTORICKSHAW as part of DirectAid at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, January 28. Tickets: $25. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN
I wish I could convey the golden quality of Autorickshaw’s recent Harbourfront Centre Theatre appearance as passionately as the gentleman to my left, who moaned during the performance’s peak points like Frasier Crane on the brink of orgasm. Then again, he seemed equally enraptured during interludes by CBC Global Village’s easy-mannered host, Jowi Taylor . It was all for a good cause: the sold-out formal show was a benefit for the direct long-term rebuilding of a community in Tamil Nadu, India, following the tsunami disaster.
Taylor stretched his patter following indigenous foursome Spirit Wind ‘s meditative set so Autorickshaw could set up. Vocalist Suba Sankaran, adorned in a vibrant orange tunic, and tabla player Ed Hanley , sporting a blue sweatshirt, sat cross-legged in the middle of the stage. The South Asian jazz band’s logo blinked onto a screen behind them, and Sankaran twiddled with a box that transmitted ambient sitar while introducing Maa, a song about the duplicitous goddess Durga.
Sankaran, her face full of drama, navigated the runs of the complex Eastern vocal lines, revealing both her technical virtuosity and a higher-level grasp of the work.
Then Hanley transformed song to spectacle with a brain-liquifying tabla solo, an onslaught of percussive sixteenth notes and syncopated shifts hammered out by his wrists and fingers with such precision that… well, you really had to be there.
Let’s just say that as Hanley’s beat went on, the man on my left purred like a cat savouring a sumptuous can of tuna.
For the second number of their 10-minute set, Rich Brown brought out a rich-sounding bass. As dextrous as the other two members (percussionist Debashis Sinha was absent), his plucking synchronized perfectly with Sankaran’s more staccato dance-suited vocals, Hanley’s tabla work knitting it all together into something authentic and – spiritually – nearly overwhelming.
With a parade of performances by the Marimba Band , Kiyoshi Nagata Taiko Ensemble and the Toronto Tabla Ensemble , among others, DirectAid felt like some kind of cultural detoxifier.
My neighbour summed up the night simply: “Cool.”
NOW | FEB 3 – 9, 2005 | VOL. 24 NO. 23
Jambase (Montreal Jazz Festival Review)
MONTREAL JAZZ FEST: MELODY IS KING
I didn’t know what to expect of Toronto-based Autorickshaw and was quite thoroughly pleased. Their music is a mixture of traditional Carnatic music of South India, more modern bhangra and Bollywood-inspired Indian music, and American jazz and pop. Often when ethnic music is fused with Western music, the connection with the tradition is blurred – not so with Autorickshaw. The Carnatic tradition was preserved and commingled with the Western elements, to the point of singer Suba Sankaran clapping the talum over “Bird On A Wire” and using traditional Carnatic rhythmic syllables to interact with tabla player Ed Hanley. No surprise, given that she’s the daughter of one of the most renowned practitioners of Indian music in Canada, percussionist Trichy Sankaran. Bassist Rich Brown was stirring as well, using his ample technique to serve the music, sans flash. He turned his fretted six-string bass into something nearly traditionally Indian, almost a deeper electric saranghi. Suba scatted over changes better than many strictly jazz singers I’ve heard, and the group’s reworkings of “A Night In Tunisia” and “Caravan” were thrilling as well, substituting modern Indian beats for the Latin tinge.
-David Ryshpan www.jambase.com
The Hindu (India)
The star of the show was Sankaran, who used both jazz and Carnatic improvisation, including scat singing and vocal percussion, to offer the audience a range of musical experiences.
Her renditions of Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s “A Night in Tunisia” and Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”, two of the greatest jazz standards, was strongly evocative of Ella Fitzgerald, for whom both were favourites.
But she was no clone of the legendary Fitzgerald, as her Carnatic techniques proved, especially on “So the Journey Goes” (the title track of Autorickshaw’s latest CD) and the Thyagaraja classic “Ganamurthy”.
Ed Hanley’s tabla work was nothing short of brilliant, integrating very well with the jazz pieces and standing out on solo percussion exchanges with Sankaran (vocal percussion) and Graham.
He also shone in the intro to “A Night in Tunisia” alongside Sankaran’s scat work. Bell, shouldering the melodic department with Sankaran, was strong in support of her and played a couple of outstanding solos, particularly on “So the Journey Goes”.
All in all, this was a high-quality concert full of originality, verve and energy. I can only wish I’d caught them in a setting where they got more time, as I believe audiences in Chennai (and perhaps Jaipur) have.
JAZZEBEL-The Hindu, Bangalore, India
The Record (2006)
Autorickshaw delights with unique mix of jazz, traditional Indian music
In a disturbing time when cultural clashes have many questioning Canada’s commitment to diversity, art has a way of coming to the rescue. There could not be a better example of music as a bridge between cultures — in this case India and Canada — than the superb music group Autorickshaw.
This was clearly demonstrated in their Friday evening performance at the Registry Theatre, the first concert in the Our World Festival of Music — Lawrence McNaught, artistic director (presented in conjunction with the City of Kitchener’s Tapestry Celebrations of Diversity).
Aside from their sheer delight in making music, what makes Autorickshaw so irresistible is a deep commitment to their art forms, most prominently, traditional Indian and jazz.
Rather than a mainstream blending of thin cultural references, their sound is a highly cultivated juxtaposition of authentic traditions, making for a unique, challenging and ultimately satisfying artistic offering.
Each musician performed with virtuosic flare. Ed Hanley, was both fluid and precise on Indian tabla. On six-string bass, Rich Brown managed to be both tunefully rich and rhythmically solid; he often seemed to be playing two instruments (bass and guitar) at once.
Debashis Sinha was a master of eclectic, percussion kit — never overplaying and always interesting. Of course the centrepiece was lead singer, Suba Sankaran, very much the heart of the band, with her supple vocal variety, infectious smile, and entrancing musicality.
The evening’s offerings gravitated either towards more traditional Indian pieces, or innovative interpretations of traditional jazz or pop standards (Caravan, Night in Tunisia, Bird on a Wire).
For the uninitiated, it takes a while to know how to listen to the traditional Indian tunes. In some ways they don’t seem to go anywhere.
Whole songs can be based on just one chord or scale, lead singer Suba Sankaran explained in the concert. To appreciate the music, one must listen for the melodic, rhythmic and dynamic variety within the form.
Expressions ranged from slow, trancelike musical meditations, to frenetic and flowing unison lines, often involving all musicians riffing together at virtuosic lightning speed.
A highlight of the concert was Sankaran’s autobiographical song entitled So the Journey Goes. During studies in India, she found herself reflecting on how she is perceived as a “foreign alien” in that country, straddling cultures, very much similar to the music she pursues.
While this song was blues-inspired, it also contained a sustained improvisational vamp where she waxed rhapsodic, lost in impassioned personal expression.
As a kickoff to Kitchener’s multicultural celebration, Autorickshaw delivered the very best one could hope for — not just a highly engaging and entertaining musical evening, but also a wonderful tribute to the overall art of diversity.
Our World Festival of Music continues June 16 with Muna Mingole at the Registry Theatre, and June 22 with Sashar Zarif & Maryem Tollar Group.
STEPHEN PREECE for The Record Kitchener • Cambridge • Waterloo
Jun 12, 2006
Canada. Think about it for a minute. Are you thinking of snow? Lumberjacks? Hockey? Red Green? US residents often have narrow views of other nations, even our closest neighbors. They may have a grain of truth, but they are far from the whole story. Canada is actually a remarkably multicultural nation, and its music constantly reminds one of this. Take autorickshaw. Fronted by Suba Sankaran (vocals, piano, percussion), the group pushes “Indian fusion” in a new direction, blending North and South Indian classical music, funk, and jazz. The song selection is diverse, ranging from the standards “A Night in Tunesia” and “Caravan” to the four-part “Hemavati Suite.” “Caravan” shows off Sankaran’s remarkable vocal range and abilities, though even more fresh and engaging is the cover of “A Night in Tunesia” with unexpected rhythmic changes, scatting, and a cool desert vibe. Rounding out the track list are originals and reinterpretations of traditional Indian songs. The band is tight, but what really makes this fusion work is Sankaran’s voice. Though classically trained, she has a richer, smokier tone than classical Indian singers, one perfectly suited to autorickshaw’s hybrid sound. Along with Sankaran are Rich Brown (bass), Ed Hanley (tabla)and Debashis Sinha (percussion).
-Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media USA
Crossing boundaries …
I started out talking about jazz, so it’s only fair I end off that way with the Toronto band, Autorickshaw and the new CD, So The Journey Goes (autorickshaw.ca). This is a tremendously talented Toronto band that blends the North American funk with the sounds of India. It features the wonderful jazz vocals of Suba Sankaran, who was trained in south Indian classical music but has a voice that could easily fit in with the Manhattan Transfer as she demonstrates on the title track of So the Journey Goes. There’s plenty of stuff on this CD that may be a little too Bollywood for western ears and a little too jazzy for friends of Indian classical music. When it works — as it does on Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire — it does it in grand style. Thanks for crossing the boundaries.
-Graham Rockingham, Music Editor, The Hamilton Spectator
…Vocalist Suba Sankaran and tabla player Ed Hanley are two artists in Toronto’s Indian classical music community who are skilled improvisers in many languages. autorickshaw’s debut is a stripped-down recording showcasing their considerable compositional and playing skills….Sankaran’s multi-tracked vocals producing rich harmonies, percussive effects and a sub-continental Joni Mitchell-influenced styling.
Everything that’s best about this Toronto South Asian-flavoured band can be found in it’s reinvention of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” into a seven-beat fusion of Indian and jazz. The opening track, “So The Journey Goes,” is a three-way play on blues, jazz and raga. Suba Sankaran’s vocals are a treat on all 10 tracks. The rest of the band, playing on Western and Indian instrumnts, is sleek-maybe too much so. Autorickshaw launches the disc with a show Wednesday night at Lula Lounge. Top track: Aside from “Bird on a Wire”, try the sci-jazz-tinged “Heavy Traffic.
Penguin Eggs Magazine
CD Review-Autorickshaw So The Journey Goes, Tala-Wallah Records
Toronto’s autorickshaw creates a unique blend of classical Indian music, jazz sensibilities, and a North American approach to song. Their latest recording, So The Journey Goes, yields increased discoveries with each listening. Hypnotic vocals draw us into original compositions and traditional Indian devotional music alike. Composer, arranger, percussionist and vocalist Suba Sankaran’s credentials are impeccable. As are composer, producer and tabla player Ed Hanley’s. He has studied extensively in India and plays with a flowing touch, with none of the forced pyrotechnics sometimes associated with this instrument. Surpassing the role of background support, his tabla adds another voice to the music. For me, the most delicious resonance in autorickshaw’s sound was the bass playing of Rich Brown. Having worked with many well-known jazz singers including Molly Johnson and Natalie Cole, Brown’s bass acts as a melodic instrument, its velvety tone flowing along with Sankaran’s lyric improvisations. So The Journey Goes will take you to a destination both warm and rich.
•By Lark Clark
Blending traditional South Indian music with genres like funk and jazz, Autorickshaw’s fusion is decidedly unique, but is it good? I vote yes, if only because of the diversity of the songs, whose melodies, in whatever language, locate themselves solidly in one tradition or the other. Which is to say that vocalist Suba Sankaran, whose voice is lithe and expressive, allows for no fence-sitting here. Also interesting, clever and metaphorical is the appropriation of the tabla for use with Western musical genres (and vice versa with electric bass). Essential song: Heavy Traffic, a digitally composed, 64-track pile-up.
Dave Jaffer, The Hour
The Record 2005
New ensemble shows why acclaim is merited
With just two CDs to their credit, autorickshaw are a relatively new ensemble that have almost instantly gained acclaim from audiences, critics and peers.
Nominated for a Juno Award for world music album of the year in 2005, they won the 2005 Canadian Independent Music Award for world music artist of the year. Those impressive credentials, combined with the hip, exotic appeal, have made them the current darlings of CBC radio.
On Friday night, at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener, the Toronto-based quartet’s live performance justified the uber-hype they’ve been receiving.
The ensemble consists of a mash-up of four of Canada’s most exciting and musically interesting young musicians: vocalist Suba Sankaran, tabla player Ed Hanley, bassist Rich Brown and exotic percussionist Debashis Sinha. All four have achieved excellence on their respective instruments. When their forces are combined, the results are utterly unique and musically pioneering.
autorickshaw’s music lies on the cultural cutting edge. It parallels sociological trends in minority youth culture. The firm basis in classical ethnic tradition is given an overhaul through an infusion of popular culture style, with influences from other far-ranging and exotic cultures.
The whole mix is the musical and cultural equivalent of a masala. autorickshaw’s live set consisted of traditional Indian compositions, the jazz standard A Night in Tunisia, a wild and exotic Indo-jazz cover of the Leonard Cohen classic Bird on a Wire, and various original compositions. However, this description doesn’t do their set justice. Their music is so much about how they infuse traditional material with current musical styles.
The quartet bill themselves as an Indo-jazz ensemble. Cleverly, the jazz influence goes beyond a retouching and into the realm of the process. The music moves past rigid Indian classical music structures and into jazz performance methods of improvisation. Using Indian classical music rhythms and melodies as a departure point, their compositions build through improv, which includes jazz solo techniques.
Interestingly, through Sankaran’s vocal work, the similarities between Indian music and jazz are highlighted. When singing south Indian traditional music, Sankaran vocalizes syllables, which correspond to Sanskrit. When juxtaposed with her jazz vocal scatting passages, the connection between the two vocal styles becomes apparent.
Ultimately, autorickshaw are the current voice of Canadian culture. Their eclectic cultural blend speaks volumes about this country’s identity. They are truly an ensemble that could only come from Canada.
-By Daniel Ariaratnam for The Record Kitchener • Cambridge • Waterloo
Monday, June 20, 2005
Our favorite Canadian-Indian-fusion group returns with a third album following their delightful Four Higher in 2004.
This one opens with the title track, in which a rippling, funky bass line from Rich Brown is soon followed by Suba Sankaran’s confident voice. She sings “I’m looking at the people / Who stare back at me / About to start the journey / of self-discovery.” Listening to this album is indeed to witness the group’s self-discovery and evolution, from the strong title track right through to “Nalina Kanthi,” a piece commissioned from the singer’s father, percussionist Trichy Sankaran.
Along with original tunes, the album includes adaptations of Bengali and Tamil folk tunes, an effective 7-beat version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” and a Bollywood offering penned by the legendary RD Burman.
Concluding the album is something of an improvisation and editing experiment. A variety of guest artists were given “guide vocals,” bass, and drums, and asked to play along. Sankaran and Ed hanley then spent a week weaving together the 64 raw tracks into the track “Heavy Traffic.”
While a comparison to the recent work of Susheela Raman seems inevitable, the music of Autorickshaw maintains more Indian roots and makes fewer forays toward pop and rock idioms. So the Journey Goes takes the listener to a bustling global train station, where Autorickshaw can guide you through the jostling mayhem.
Scott Allan Stevens
This adorable Canadian foursome mixes Indian pop and classical music with jazz and electronica, and makes it sound fresh every step of the way. An epic of ethnic self-discovery, the title track swings, rocks and skitters just like the Indian trains referenced by singer Suba Sankaran. ‘Aaj Ki Raat’ sounds like Indian spy music, sneaky and sexy; percussionists Ed Hanley (tabla) and Patrick Graham (tons of stuff) make sure everything keeps percolating, and Rich Brown plays the hell out of an electric bass. Their cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’ is fine, but the tracks where they try for the moon are more exciting-‘Nalina Kanthi,’ to pick only the most notable example, makes fusion jazz jump to a Bollywood beat, complete with a cool solkattu (the mysterious vocal percussion based on tabla sounds) break.
-Matt Cibula, Global Rhythm Magazine, USA
Suba Sankaran outstanding at Java meets India
The rich texture of Suba Sankaran’s voice awakened the first rays of dawn in a piece entitled Sunrise”…”The depth and variance in her young voice is remarkable and is sure to impact the Toronto scene in a big way. An avid performer of Indian classical music, Suba is equally at ease with jazz. She found the connect with Java interspersed with moments of prepared music and spontaneity, communicating with the group to break down cultural barriers.
– Preethi Thandi, The Weekly, Dec 2002