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 Tuesday, 01 December 2015
East Meets West: The Aakash Mittal Quartet Returns to the Dakota Late Night, March 12th PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 07 March 2011

“The most important aspect of the music for me is that it should tell a story, create a mood or feeling, and say something about the modern world and the human condition.” –Aakash Mittal 

Aakash Mittal QuartetİAndrea Canter

Initiated by musician/jazz entrepreneur Jeremy Walker and now curated by club staffer/trumpeter Dan Eikmeier, the Dakota Jazz Club’s Late Night series has provided numerous opportunities to bring new and cutting edge music to downtown Minneapolis. Throughout its run, the weekend Late Night gig calendar has offered eclectic, experimental and often unusual music in the after-hours time slot. Often the musicians are local innovators, and sometimes a debut at Late Night is a prelude to prime time bookings and greater visibility—such as the Atlantis Quartet, Monk in Motian and John Raymond Project. But now and then Dan brings in a ringer—an ensemble from more distant realms. This Saturday, March 12th, at 11 pm, Late Night patrons will get a second opportunity to experience the cross-cultural explorations of Denver-based alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal and his quartet. Quickly gaining a reputation as a creative composer and improviser, Mittal first performed here in March 2009, returning to the area last summer to perform on the Sixth Street Stage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.  

Aakash Mittal

Aakash MittalİAndrea Canter
Cross-culturalism describes Mittal’s own background—his father is from India, his mother from the U.S. Growing up in Texas, Mittal moved to Loveland, CO at 14. He took up saxophone as a student at Loveland High School, and was first attracted to big band swing. A University of Colorado jazz camp prompted his pursuit of jazz studies at the university, and he also dabbled in Brazilian and funk music. But it was his first encounter with paternal relatives (many of whom are musicians)in Chicago, shortly before starting college, that sparked his interest in the music of India. Notes Mittal, “My cousin is a classically trained Hindustani singer. My uncle plays a classical Indian hand drum. They are friends with Ravi Shankar... So I got to jam with them. And before that I had just been playing jazz and listening to Indian music, and then all of a sudden I got to meet all these people that I was related to. So after that, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go in.”  

Mittal shares a common heritage with one of his muses, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, an Indian American musician from nearby Boulder, CO (now based in New York) who has been praised for his fusion of traditional Indian music and American post bop. “He is kind of like an older, way more developed version of myself,” Mittal says of Mahanthappa. “Or, I’m more like the younger, less-experienced version of him, is probably more like it.” 

Over the past few years, Mittal has performed all original music with his quartet in Denver/Boulder area venues, leads a standards-based Brazilian duo, and a classical flute and harp duet. He’s performed with some of India’s acclaimed musicians including Ravi Shankar, in pit orchestras including Urintown and with the Loveland Opera Theater’s Magic Flute. He recently began a collaboration with Indian guitarist Rafiq Bhatia. A devoted music educator as well as performer, the 26-year-old has run a private lessons studio and has taught ensembles in area high schools, middle and elementary schools. He’s also composed over thirty compositions for his jazz quartet (University of Northern Colorado Professor Matt Fuller on guitar, Denverite Jean-Luc Davis on bass, and Boulder musician Josh Moore on drums), and in 2010 extended his efforts to sextet with acclaimed trumpeter Hugh Ragin and Hindustani vocalist Gaurav Venkateswar. “It has been quite a learning experience writing all that new music for a larger group,” said Aakash.  “I also felt that compositionally I was able to incorporate some more authentic hightech Indian rhythms into the music.  Many of these were rhythms and compositions I learned on my most recent trip to India.” 

Matt FullerİAndrea Canter
His journeys to India have profoundly impacted Mittal’s music. On his first trip, he studied classical Indian music with internationally renowned artists Pandit Tanmoy Bose and Prattyush Banerjee. In early 2010, he returned, performing with bands Taal Tantra (“run by Tanmoy Bose, Ravi Shankar's tabla player”) and Kendraka.  “Kendraka is made up of musicians close to my age that play their own original instrumental material influenced by Jazz, Rock, and Indian music.  Obviously this was a great fit! …They ended up asking me to record on their upcoming album with them… I am excited to work with Kendraka more in the future.”  Most recently, Mittal and his quartet traveled to Kolkata, India, where they performed four concerts, and closed out 2010 with a performance home in Colorado featuring trumpeter Ron Miles. 

The Music

Listening to the music of Aakash Mittal, one can hear his diverse influences—John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Johnny Hodges, and of course Rudresh Mahanthappa. Although he posted a gorgeous “Body and Soul” on his website, Aakash concentrates on performing original compositions that draw equally from his eastern roots and his American avant garde leanings. Of his compositions, he noted that “It’s more about getting into the groove or playing a scale that’s more exotic in this part of the world... I try to incorporate a groove element into it, so it’s not totally free or totally out. There is freeform stuff, but also the abstract and element of structure within a groove someone might be able to relate with.”

The compositions on Mittal’s 2009 debut recording, Possible Beginnings, are reminiscent of some of the works of Charles Lloyd, particularly his experiments with flute and taragato. The tracks yield a spacious ambience, eastern themes unfolding only to implode in Coltranish swirls, frenetic twists and spins, lines that are sometimes sinister, sometimes elegant. Aakash released Videsh a year later, noting that “Videsh” means “foreign” – his self-description of feelings on his first trip to visit relatives in India which inspired this music. Again the fusion of East and West yields sonic pleasures that are at times elegantly hymnal, at times exuberantly chaotic, always intriguing. 

Jean-Luc DavisİAndrea Canter
Mittal sums up his integration of music and culture: “I believe that music and culture are inseparable and that music is a product of culture.  I believe that jazz comes from a unique American culture and that Indian Raga music is very tied to Indian culture…As an American of Indian descent, I am interested in creating music that is representative of this acculturation.  The most important aspect of the music for me is that it should tell a story, create a mood or feeling, and say something about the modern world and the human condition.  To do this, I create music using a palette of colors that range from various styles of American jazz to rock to Indian raga music, to electronic samples, and the blues.  In this sense each genre is another color to be used to paint something musically.  In my mind this is what Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane were doing in their own way.  They were coming from their own culture and they created music that was a product of their times.  Their music was so good, it is still relevant today.” 

Late Night Treasurers

Those who can sustain enough energy to keep their ears wide open after hours are often richly rewarded by the Late Night at the Dakota sets, and on Saturday, March 12th, the rewards will be many as we welcome the Aakaash Mittal Quartet back to the Twin Cities. On the setlist will be music from Possible Beginnings and Videsh, compositions inspired by the Quartet’s trip to Kolkata, India and music written for the recent project with Ron Miles. Notes Aakash, “The music will be eclectic and diverse but at its core will be our unique Colorado sound as well as our jazz and Indian influences.”  

The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis; Come early for the prime time set with Davina and the Vagabonds. Cover for Late Night only $5. Note the earlier start for Late Night—10:30 pm! Possible Beginnings and Videsh will be available at the show and from CD Baby at  

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