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Aakash Mittal - Nocturne (self-released)

10 September 2021

The blend of Indian music and jazz is always an interesting one. Usually a natural fusion, sometimes even (in a good way) a collison, the mix of ragas and improvisation is most often delicious. That’s certainly the case with Nocturne, the latest album from alto saxophonist and composer Aakash Mittal. The Texas native has an impressive resumé, from leading bands featuring modern trumpet star Ron Miles to playing with master musician Ravi Shankar’s percussionist Pandit Tanmoy Bose in his group Taal Tantra. All of it leads to Nocturne, a collection of pieces inspired by the night life of Kolkata.

When most of us hear the term “nocturne,” we think of calm and serenity. But anyone who’s ventured out into the streets of a large city after the sun goes down knows that’s not all that’s going on, and Mittal’s writing reflects that. On “Nocturne III” percussionist Rajna Swaminathan (on mrudangam and kanjira) keeps a rhythm like hurried footsteps down the sidewalk, while guitarist Miles Okazaki and Mittal wind their instruments around each other like the natural undulations of a restless crowd. “Nocturne IV” and “Nocturne II” push the trio nearly into free jazz, reflecting the organized chaos of a large population of people looking for action in the dark. But the group embodies the preconceptions of meditative space as well, on tracks like the busy but contemplative “Street Music Part II” and the lovely “Nocturne I” and “Nocturne IV.” Even the most active night owls rest sometime, after all.