What a fantastic album, a definite highlight of 2020. I can't think of any musician like Sameer Gupta. Ben Tyree provides the perfect foil with the electric guitar - from bluesy distortion to frenetic exploration to some straight up shredding. A real treat. This isn't your grandpa's fusion.
In a time of societal upheaval caused by a global health crisis and an international anti-racism uprising, there’s an increasingly urgent call for co-creating new visions for what the world could look like post-pandemic. Guitarist Ben Tyree and drummer/percussionist Sameer Gupta heard that call and answered with their joint debut recording project, Unruly Neighbors - a largely improvisational sculpture of electric and acoustic sound that is, at once, emotive, gritty, and transcendent. The album weaves a contrast of Tyree’s searching, dark and, at times, piercing tone with the almost tickling, trance-inducing drive of Gupta’s hybrid tabla/drum kit, creating dream-like washes of sound that play to the many tensions and uncertainties of this moment.
The path that led from opposite ends of the country and landed these two friends a few blocks apart in Brooklyn was strewn with seeds that would come to fruition upon their meeting decades later. Gupta came into music by playing drums/percussion in his San Francisco high school jazz and marching bands. His introduction to Indian music was through this Western lens, which lit in him the desire to learn the music on its own terms and to examine its history of Western assimilation. He immersed himself in a deep study of tabla and has since been recognized as one of only a few percussionists that simultaneously and skillfully carries the traditions of American jazz and classical Indian music. Tyree came up enriched by city arts programs and the punk, go-go, hip-hop, and jazz scenes of his native Washington, D.C. He formally studied jazz and Western classical guitar at Howard University. After moving to New York in 2002, Tyree began collaborating with such improvisational trailblazers as Vernon Reid, Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber, and Elliott Sharp as well as developing his acoustic solo work and electric trio project, BT3.
Refusing to adhere to the norms of any one culture, the duo moves boldly into an exploration of music as s language of resistance, nature and pure sound. With a deep bow to devotional jazz influences, Gupta describes an ethereal quality to the music, “the way Sun Ra records vibrate the air in a certain way - there is something there beyond our conception of the music, embedded in the vibration.” Taking on risk as a core musical device, Gupta and Tyree acknowledge that while the rewards can be rare, the foundation of trust between them mitigates against the dangers of failure. Their attitude of absolute affirmation is a “both/and” embrace that allows them to work past the struggle of fear into the potentiality of the musical unknown.
The synergy of the duo, palpable in the final product, was present throughout the distanced recording process. Tyree wrote “Long Pause” for the project and before he had the chance to share the file, Gupta intuitively sent him a drum track that, miraculously, fit perfectly. On this song, the players take turns blazing through a stretched swath of Tyree’s sustained progressions, which feels quite like the periodic frenzies we have experienced in this seemingly endless period of “NY on Pause.” “Crying Earth” features a wailing, bluesy soliloquy by Tyree dancing over an impressive exposition of Gupta’s signature hybrid tabla/drum kit, which he premiered on this project. Both musicians mark the final track, “The Water is Wide,” as a highlight of the project. Tyree heard this 15th century Scottish folk song “a love song for all of us, a prayer that helped me deal with the loss of friends and loss all around. It became my anthem for getting through the pandemic.” Gupta, too, got caught up in the melody. “The simplest of songs often carry the most energy and feeling,” he said. “It’s all heart, and that’s lately more of what I’m looking for: more heart, less head.”
Unruly Neighbors came together at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New York amidst the national uprising against anti-black racism and police brutality, and will be digitally released on June 12 on Ben Tyree's Sonic Architectures label. In this unarguably scary, heavy, stressful, and sorrowful time, Tyree describes the album as a process of “bringing light into the darkness.” Gupta echoes, “it is about sharing the creative process/energy during difficult times, which is an affirming thing for people to experience.”
released June 12, 2020
Sameer Gupta - Drumset, Tabla
Ben Tyree - Electric Guitars
Sameer Gupta is known as one of the few percussionists simultaneously representing the traditions of American jazz on drum
set and Indian classical music on tabla. By combining traditional and modern improvisational styles drawing from his Indian heritage and American roots, Gupta has already established himself as an original musical voice in jazz, world, and fusion music....more