Kenny G & Rahul Sharma | Namaste India

Kenny G - Namaste II

Kenny G & Rahul Sharma
Namaste India
By Peggy Oliver

Since the mid-eighties, Kenny G’s distinct aesthetic soprano saxophone has been a strong force in the smooth jazz community. G (which stands for his last name Gorelick) initially paid major dues with jazz fusion giant Jeff Lorber. Like many superstars in waiting, the Seattle, WA native’s solo triumph was not immediately realized when he released his debut in 1982. Album sales were more respectable on his second and third releases but the breakthrough arrived in 1986 with his fourth disc, Duotones, and the smash jazz/R&B single “Songbird,” which sealed Kenny G’s longevity in the industry. What made Kenny G’s sound click all these years with his fan base was his full commitment to expressing his sweet, soulful saxophone flourishes over R&B-influenced arrangements. Kenny G’s collaborations – which included Brian McKnight and Robin Thicke – and his near three decades of solo contributions have translated into a solid career in the adult contemporary pop and contemporary jazz markets. Unfortunately, Kenny G’s “true to himself” philosophy drove many critics to complain about his supposed lack of more classic jazz training and his apprehension in pushing the musical envelope. With Kenny G’s latest recorded effort – in an unusual collaborative move – this train of thought for the veteran saxophonist was about to change.

Somewhat shifting away from his normal comfort zone, Kenny G teams with Rahul Sharma, one of India’s most respected classical musicians, a master of the 100-string instrument known as a “satoor”, and a huge admirer of Kenny G’s body of work. The fruits of their labor result in the ethereal, classical-folk inspired soundtrack Namaste India, on which Kenny G and Sharma intertwine their cultural and musical backgrounds. On most levels, this daring experiment is pulled off remarkably well, especially with the enhancements of producer Kid Tricky’s bag of primarily western driven grooves.

The title track rides on an earthy funk bed and Kenny G’s soulful sax squeals. “Brahma – Vishnu – Shiva” closely patterns the Indian classical tradition with vocal chants, drones and tight, pleasing melodies from Kenny G and Sharma. “Dance of the Elephant God” ends up being more chilled out keyboard filler and disallows the principal players to go very far in their musical zones. On the other hand, “Lotus Lovers” floats over understated beats and opens up a fully exquisite conversation by Kenny G and Sharma. “Valley of Flowers” shines the spotlight on Sharma as his dexterity on this complex, multi-stringed instrument is mind-boggling but always soothing. Kenny G’s animated soprano sax runs the table on the Latin-marinated “Silsila.”

Namaste India was originally released and recorded in India over a year ago. This new edition from Concord Jazz features two bonus remix tracks. Walter A.’s reconstruction of “Transcendental Consciousness” is completely enveloped with contagious Bollywood rhythms. The Soul Seekerz Club’s techno-powered mix of the title track, unfortunately, erases the warmth of the original version.

Initially, the biggest concern with Namaste India was the possible danger of falling into new age-ish bliss. However, even with a few shortcomings, the several months invested in matching Kenny G and Sharma’s musical strengths was quite the wise and productive move for both talents. In the long run, Namaste India should not deter Kenny G.’s long-standing contemporary jazz following.

Four out of five stars.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene