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With Wild Wild East, drummer Sunny Jain — who grew up the son of Indian immigrants in Rochester, New York — set out to make not just a collection of music, but a statement. And it’s a grand one, involving clashing cultures, the South Asian diaspora, immigrant struggles and Jain’s complex personal history.
While the 12 tracks inventively mash together Eastern and Western styles, Wild Wild East is often overstuffed with ideas and sounds, rendering much of it a listening endurance test. The album’s first half, especially, is an onslaught of thick guitar washes, echo-drenched saxophones, chants and lyrics sung in the Urdu language, and strident drumming. It’s more South Asian-influenced heavy rock than jazz. The record contains precious few actual solos.
In a helpful essay that opens a handsome 22-page booklet, Jain recalls getting asked as a child, “What tribe are you from?” This prompted him to explore a “Cowboys and Indians” theme, yielding tunes that merge Bollywood and Spaghetti Western melodies, finding more commonality than contrast. The rhythms on “Immigrant Warrior,” “Aye Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal” and the title track have a galloping quality that evokes America’s Western frontier days.
The album’s second half takes a turn for the better when it becomes more contemplative, allowing the music to breathe and introducing Indian instruments such as bansuri flute (played beautifully by Sawan Benjamin) and sarod, a cousin to the sitar. Included in this segment, “Hai Apna Dil to Aawara,” a loping American-style country tune, is sung in Urdu by female vocalist Ganavya. It’s an odd outlier, but an oddly satisfying one.
The set amps back up with the closer, “Brooklyn Dhamal.” The most successful up-tempo number on the album, its galloping beat drives a succinct guitar riff and ends in a manic crescendo of droning guitar smears. Wild Wild East becomes more coherent and palatable with repeated listens, but how well Jain’s highly personal project translates to jazz aficionados is very much in question. — Eric Snider
Featured photo by Ebru Yildiz.