John Mayer: Dhammapada [deleted]
To be re-released on FHR50 Dhammapada / Portraits of Bengal / Tantric Dances
"It could well be his [Mayer's] finest achievement.”
(All Music Guide)
Dhammapada is a John Mayer work that was commissioned by EMI in 1976 but remained unreleased for 30 years. His work with Joe Harriott on Indo-Jazz Suite and Indo-Jazz Fusions is justifiably lauded, but Dhammapada expands on his East-West fusion by adding instrumentation not just from India (sitar, sarod, tabla) but also from Japan and China (koto and cheng, respectively) to his British jazz combo (sax/clarinet, trumpet, flute, piano, bass). In addition to drums and tabla, he utilizes a trio of percussionists who play everything from glockenspiel to marimba to temple bells.
He also makes use of Japanese and Chinese scales in addition to his Indian classical influences. The results are amazing. The seemingly odd instrumentation works surprisingly well together as an ensemble, and Mayer's enormous talents as both composer and arranger really come to the fore. The longer pieces play like suites within a suite, with thoroughly composed sections seamlessly giving way to jazzy improvisational solos and musical conversations (for example, the trumpet/sitar dialogue on "Maha-Samana") before the introduction of new themes. Mayer's use of polyrhythms and counterpoint is fantastic and the band's ability to transition from chamber ensemble precision to jazz-rock vamping is incredible.
There are no lengthy solos to speak of; the playing is concise and extremely focused but everyone gets a turn. The longer pieces are separated from each other by progressively more elaborate arrangements of the same theme inspired by "Rag Kafi," "Sannyasin." Starting with just glockenspiel and crotales (basically bells), sax is added, then galloping bass and percussion. These pieces keep the album tied together nicely thematically, and also highlight Mayer's arranging skills. The recording itself is also excellent — crisp and clear, taking full advantage of the stereo spectrum so each instrument is clearly identifiable with no muddiness in the mix (no easy task with a 13-piece ensemble). That this album sat unreleased for 30 years is almost a crime. It's a brilliant, groundbreaking work that sounds fresh even after languishing for three decades. It's a shame that Mayer didn't live to see the eventual release of Dhammapada. It could well be his finest achievement.
“The remarkable thing about this important work of John Mayer's is that, though commissioned in 1976, it lay languishing in the vaults for three decades… How good that this work has now seen the light of day.” (Musicweb-International)
“That this album sat unreleased for 30 years is almost a crime. It's a brilliant, ground breaking work that sounds fresh even after languishing for three decades. It's a shame that Mayer didn't live to see the eventual release of Dhammapada. It could well be his finest achievement.” (All Music Guide)
“…Mayer’s arrangements for this stellar band are as deft as they are ambitious. A fitting tribute to the late great visionary and one his son Jonathan, who came across the tapes in 1990, should be proud of.” (Straight No Chaser Magazine)
“Full of Mayer’s signature touches there are the dynamics of contemplation and helter-skelter, swinging jazz melting into temple bells, koto and sitar, extraordinary juxtapositions and adventurous scoring and great paying as well…. Dhammapada is a major addition to the Mayer canon and the East-West vocabulary.” (Jazzwise Magazine ****)
"This is the work of a brilliant and complex musical mind and deserves great credit for attempting such a vast canvas…” (Manchester Evening News)