WARREN SENDERS and The Antigravity Ensemble

"My goals in composition for a mix of Indian and Western instruments are no different than my goals elsewhere: to write for individuals. I don't compose for the sitar, I compose for a sitarist..."

He has no albums out, and he rarely performs in the U.S., spending most of his time in India. I want to introduce him to you because he is one of the first people I've come in contact with that has really found a path to understanding "world music," a path he has been following for many years, and acknowledges it is still a long, winding but exciting road. Warren Senders sense of the world's music brings together the improvisational aspects of east and west. His music is more concerned with time than place. It is the meeting of musicians, not cultures, that primarily colors his work. In a letter from his home in Pune, India he talked of "world music."

"Over the years I have frequently been frustrated by the content and quality of 'world music fusion' projects, even those by presumed masters of traditional idioms... lots of them are simplistic versions of one tradition or another, with a shiny new surface texture that conveys an attractive novelty. There's a lot of silliness in the 'jazz meets Indian music' area, especially with the opportunity to make cosmic New Age noises on the sitar and tabla and flutes and Tibetan bells. Frequently jazz players are so intimidated by playing with 'great Indian masters' that they cop out and play ersatz Indian music... that is better suited for background use in an Indian restaurant."

Senders music is a determined effort to avoid these pitfalls. Composer, bass player, and budding Hindustani vocalist ("After fifteen years, I'm still not at a professional level. If nothing else, Indian music teaches patience!"). His music grows from his lifelong jazz experiences and his years of living with Indian music. His ensemble, Antigravity, is unlike anything I have heard coming from a Western musician. There is not a trace of cuteness, no appropriate sounding phrasing or clever juxtapositions. These pieces are new, composed for the ensemble, and therefore neither Indo-jazz nor Hindi-American pop. While Warren is learning the patience and quiet of Indian music, his Indian band mates are acquiring a knowledge of the improvisation and lively spirit of Parker, Mingus and Ellington. The works I have heard on his demo tapes include gamelan structures for horns, and bamboo flute compositions based on Indian tradition, but with a genuine "swing' like no other Asian musical group.

Senders finishes: "I am a composer first. Singing Indian music, playing Indo-jazz bass (or for that matter playing Gershwin, Mingus or western classical), it's all part of composition. I am trying to compose an approach to Indian music that is innovative, yet within the tradition..When I work on my original music, that's the time I try to build from the ground up, taking whatever I need to get the right sound. It's kept me out of trouble for years." His music reflects that spirit. Like so many of the world's musicians, he is living in multiple cultures. Unlike most, however, he is attempting to fortify and expand his music through his experience, not just amplify one culture to make it accessible to the other.

ANTIGRAVITY Music By Warren Senders (Accurate, PO 390115, Cambridge, MA 02139) - I figured the "world" music thing would finally hit its next peak when the jazz artists came in, and so it is. Unlike the Brazilian pop/jazz boom in the fifties and sixties, this current wave is more and more based on artistry, experiment, and a defiance of mass-marketability. Players like Anouar Brahem and Rabih Abou-Khalilhave taken their folk music into the realm of jazz with brilliant results. Americans like David Amram have introduced us to the sounds of the south and the east in their fusions. Unlike the rock fusions of Byrne or N'Dour, they have approached the music as a case of pure sonics. So it is with a new Americanartist, WARREN SENDERS.

Senders is a bass player from Massachusetts, an unlikely origin for someone who is redefining the music of India and the language of American jazz. To call the music he has written for his ensemble a revelation would be a gross understatement. These nine compositions have the ability to remind one simultaneously of Ornette Coleman and Imrat Khan, melding together rhythmic systems and melodic scales one would think incompatible, and making a wholly new music that bows in both directions, but never bends to either form. Each instrument in the ensemble, percussion, sitar, guitar, flute, violin, tabla and Sender's bass, are masterfully played. The open spaces provide room for every artist in Antigravity to solo, both from the charts, and in a flurry of revealing improvisations. Of special note is bansuri player Ajit Soman, whose fanciful flights on this bamboo flute are technically flawless and an earful of surprises in his improvs. "Ajit's Dream" provides a good starting point for understanding both the structural demands that Senders places on his musicians, and the musical freedom he wisely allows. The real beauty of Antigravity is that in spite of all its Indian allusions, it REALLY swings. That is what first impressed me with Senders music when I heard rough tapes last year, and it is still what grabs me. It is jazz in the best sense; extemporaneous, original yet rooted in tradition, unpretentious and daring.

Articles copyright 1992-95 cliff furnald

A review of Anti-Gravity's Boogie for Hanuman
More about contemporary music and its Indian connections
Warren's article about his adventures in Pune, India