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Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | INDIE | AFM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Jazz World


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Blending jazz and traditional Indian music, Avataar’s Petal might be an acquired taste, but such is to be expected from an album that so nimbly combines idioms of the East and West.

The album is saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan’s project,
which offers a ripe story unto itself. The Canadian-born artist’s resume points to serious jazz encounters and obvious connections with so-called world music, and the 10-track program evinces as much. “Banda Aceh” offers jazz-inflected music with vocals and tabla, Viswanathan’s solo meandering through the song’s contours as Michael Occhipinti’s gui-tar voice gently plucks and probes. Clearly, this band—with tabla master Naimpally adding vocals—has an intimate group sound.

Simple and unassuming, “The Long Dream” anchors Petal with its best mix of East and West, the groove implied more than stated, while “Infinite Open,” on the other hand, provides a subtle yet uptempo groove, Naimpally’s tabla and Occhipinti’s guitar attaining just the right amount of edge. “Petal (Ephemerata)” invokes the spirit of universal harmony to conclude what is a mixed bag of stellar compositions executed by surging talent.

—John Ephland

Petal: Agra; Banda Aceh; Monsoon; The Long Dream; Infinite Open; Raudra; Petal (The Space Between); Ishwar; Annapoorna; Petal (Ephemerata). (61:38)
Personnel: Sundar Viswanathan, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, bansuri, flute; Felicity Williams, vocals; Michael Occhipinti, guitar; Justin Gray, bass, mandolin, taus; Ravi Naimpally, tabla, percussion; Giampaolo Scatozza, drums; Robi Botos, piano (7, 10), Fender Rhodes (8); Samidha Joglekar, vocals (6). - DOWNBEAT May 2016


"It's a winner... (Viswanathan's) phrasing is lithe and fluid... The instrumental performances are strong throughout. .. This is fusion in the best sense of the word. Whether the group is expressing ecstasy, transcendence or tranquility, there's never a dull moment." John Frederick Moore - JAZZIZ Summer 2016


**** out of *****

A simplified definition of classical Indian music can be characterized as Hindustani from the north, and Carnatic from the south. Though both are based on the raga system of melodic scales, Hindustani's structure is open to improvisation, whereas Carnatic is more scientific and devotional in its approach. Saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan, although a longtime resident of Canada, was born in India, and has juxtaposed his native music with a pliable jazz awareness into Petal, his latest project with Avataar.

"Agra," the city in northern India which is home to the Taj Mahal, is melodically realized with background invocations and exotic imagery as Viswanathan plays his horn with colorful characteristics. The piece is transported into the modern era with deft guitar work from Michael Occhipinti, and bassist Justin Gray, while vocalist Felicity Williams engages in a trance invoking chant, accented by Ravi Naimpally on tablas. Ten years ago the Indonesian city of "Banda Aceh," was devastated by a tsunami, and the group pays homage with traces of Javanese gamelan inspiration. The torrential "Monsoon," travels quickly, as if a warning, before reaching the calming tones of "The Long Dream, with its lengthening drone, based on the tranquil ras flavor of the raga mode.

"Infinite Open," appears as a meditative hurl across the horizon, as the vocal nuances suggest the options available. Hindustani vocalist Samidha Joglekar is featured on "Raudra," created on the traditional rasa which might be interpreted as coming to terms with anger. "Ishwar," on the other hand, travels effortlessly on the transcendental plane, in search of the Supreme Lord. The Hindu goddess of nourishment, "Annapoorna," is the source for the upbeat and jovial mood in keeping with the spiritual concept portrayed. The title, "Petal," appears as a divided composition, with part one being "The Space Between," suggesting that it is the void in nature which makes it interesting and appealing, while the closing "Ephemerata," depicts a temporary nature, as quotes from savants and gurus are injected to dramatize the fact that we must live in harmony during our brief time on earth.

All the compositions were penned by Viswanathan, who flows with innate expertise on alto and soprano saxophones, as well as bansuri and flute. Bassist Justin Gray served as producer, and did an impressive job of realization. As an ensemble they are obviously in sync with the overall theme based on Hindu music and belief, while expanding their musical knowledge and productivity, penetrating further into the mystic. This direction and dedication has yielded a thought provoking record, taken to the threshold, from which one can continue to examine and explore the possibilities, and enjoy the experience along the way.

Track Listing: Agra; Banda Aceh; Monsoon; The Long Dream; Infinite open; raudra; Petal (the Space Between) Ishwar; Annapoorna; Petal (ephemerata).

Personnel: Sundar Viswanathan: alto sax, soprano sax, bansuri, flute; Fleicity Williams: vocals; Michael Occhipinti: electric and acoustic guitar; Justin Gray: electric bass, mandolin, taus; Ravi Naimpally: table, percussion; Giampaolo Scatozza: drums; Robi Botos: piano (7, 9) Fender Rhodes (8); Samidha Joglekar: hindustani vocals (6).

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: InSound Records - All About Jazz (reviewed by James Nadal)

"Petal - Avataar"

For years before this first CD release, the Toronto world-jazz band Avataar paid its dues in workshops and gigs across Ontario. Reflecting the interest in the album, recently Petal received the 2016 Toronto Jazz Festival’s Special Projects Initiative award. What’s the buzz about? Avataar is led by the multiple JUNO-nominated jazz saxophonist, bansurist and composer Sundar Viswanathan. He’s solidly supported by an all-star band including local jazzers and world music heroes (several of whom lean heavily on Hindustani musical accents): Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Justin Gray (bass), Felicity Williams (voice), Ravi Naimpally (tabla) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drums).

There are numerous solos by all concerned I could cite for praise, starting with wispy long lyrical melodies and searing hard bop gestures in the sax solos by Viswanathan. I also want to earmark the superb, always sensitive and sometimes exploratory guitar work throughout by Occhipinti – but each musician gets a solo to command in the album.

Outstanding performances abound in the title track Petal (the space between). In it, guest Toronto keyboardist Robi Botos begins quietly by playing the grand piano’s strings muted with one hand, thus rendering a remarkably Hungarian cimbalom-like sonority and non-metric rhythmic density. Botos masterfully builds themes and textures with two hands aboard the keyboard. He’s joined by Viswanathan’s sax and Williams’ vocals in twinned melodic lines, sometimes in unison, while other times diverging into harmony with the rest of the band in supporting roles.

Enhancing listening satisfaction is the initial sprinkling of atmospheric sounds in Agra, opening up the track’s soundscape to a glimpse of the world outside the Toronto studio. The pre-recorded spoken texts woven into the uplifting jazz hymn-like Petal (Ephemerata) are also handled skillfully. These are not just any words, but those which reflect the evanescence of human life spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, Osho, the Dalai Lama, Alan Watts, Swami Vivekananda and others, spiritual seekers all. They greatly amplify the positive emotion many listeners will experience in this music.

Concert Note: Avataar launches “Petal” on March 30 at Lula Lounge and performs at the Small World Music Centre on May 20. - WHOLENOTE MAGAZINE (review by Andrew Timar)

"Avataar, Petal (Mar. 18, 2016)"

I don't suppose that anyone familiar with the history and trajectory of "Fusion" is unaware of the importance of classical Indo-Pak and African elements in the development of the first seminal outfits that were categorized as such back in the early days. Of course there was John McLaughlin as a clear example of the Indian strain, but the rhythmic structural influence could be heard in some classic Miles of the day among many others, and the melodic element was a pronounced aspect of many sides. As for the African element, I only mention it here--for later discussion.

Avataar updates the Indian-jazz nexus on the recent album Petal (InSound Records IS003). It is the brainchild of saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan. He's put together a very able and flexible group and they give us a new and exciting spin on Indo-jazz-rock doings. Sundar brings us a full CD of nicely crafted and arranged originals that open us up to something different. Key to it all is vocalist Felicity Williams and her oft-times wordless vocal instrument, which especially in the compositional segments plays an important role in the shaping of the ensemble melodies--sometimes in unison with Sundar's soprano or alto, or perhaps the electric guitar of Michael Occhipinti as well--who by the way plays some angelically demonic guitar here in the solo zone.

And there is supreme musicianship to be heard all-around--Justin Gray on bass, Ravi Naimpally on tabla, Giampaolo Scatozza on drums are all huge contributors to the sound.

The compositions stand out as especially fine. All players have a foot in both western and Indian camps, no more so than Sundar, who combines the two in his solo work beautifully well.

It is music that those new to this sort of thing may dig right off, and those who love the Indian-Jazz-Rock nexus will feel like they are in a new home, with all the things they might expect and definite fresh twists, too, for a happy result. Excellent!

Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 7:06 AM
Labels: avataar petal gapplegate guitar review, indian based fusion today, new fusion bands, new fusion guitarists, new fusion sax, sundar viswanathan - GAPPLEGATE GUITAR AND BASS BLOG

"This is Jazz Today"

Avataar – Petal (Self-Produced)
Avataar - "Petal"Real easy to warm up to this tuneful recording from the ensemble led by saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan. It’s a nice mix of modern jazz, ambient fusion and Indian musics. The end result is a kind of vague World Jazz a la world jazz trailblazers Oregon… but much like the Oregon ensemble, Avaatar bursts with all kinds of personality, some of it quite magnetic. The rhythmic approach develops a nice chatter, but keeps to a casual demeanor, which is why so much of this music has a peaceful ring. The up-tempo “Monsoon” gets closer to a pop music sound than is advisable, but even that questionable tune stays within the boundaries of album cohesion. Felicity Williams’ wordless vocals are applied with a nice touch and definitely add a welcome textural layer to an album that’s got plenty to offer. - BIRD IS THE WORM (Reviewed by


Saxophonist & composer Sundar Viswanathan brings together his jazz background & his South Indian heritage in these gorgeous compositions that incorporate Indian classical elements with a palette of other world & jazz influences. The vocals by Felicity Williams are reminiscent of the Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim when she performed with Return to Forever! Guitarist Michael Occhipinti sometimes reminds one of Prasanna (“the Jimi Hendrix of India”). The bass, drums, keyboards, & tabla are super fine too. Don’t miss this! - WRUV Reviews (reviewed by Jay Paul)

"Petal, Avataar"

Tout au long du parcours de ce groupe torontois, une voix céleste survole en douceur les tablas du polyvalent Ravi Naimpally, un pionnier de la fusion avec les musiques indiennes, pendant que le saxophoniste Sundar Viswanathan explore les points d’alliage entre les structures de la musique de l’Inde du Sud et celles de la ville occidentale. On l’appelait Sam, il est revenu à son nom de naissance et son trajet se fait sereinement, avec plusieurs moments de tranquillité et quelques atmosphères doucement étranges, mais en étant également parsemé de la guitare électrique parfois distordue de Michael Occhipinti et de groove plus funky. Si l’ensemble ne paraît pas désarmant pour qui s’intéresse au genre, la musique y est interprétée avec sensibilité et maestria. L’ajout de quelques phrasés à l’indienne par Samidha Joglekar et de quelques autres instruments comme le piano Fender Rhodes contribue à diversifier un climat souvent aéré. - LE DEVOIRS, 23 Juin 2016 Yves Bernard


AVATAAR/Petal: An eastern Indian from northern Canada had a spiritual awakening about who he was and where he was and turned inward toward his roots. Of course, things change between here and there and this sounds more like 70s hippy jazz than raga. Without the earnestness of young people invading the mix, this sounds like what said hippy jazz would have sounded like if it was allowed to mature and percolate. With an easy listening/smooth jazz vibe running through it, this cat who's no stranger to playing with all stripes of valued jazzbos is all about blazing his own trail here which he does nicely. Wild without being undisciplined, this is fun, fine listening for those unstructured times when you really want the good vibes to flow. Check it out. - MIDWEST RECORD

"Q & A with Sudbury's Sundar Viswanathan (Interview)"

Sudbury-born musician Sundar Viswanathan releases Petal on March 30 at Lula Lounge in Toronto. He played with his band, Avataar, last September at the Sudbury jazz festival. It was a wondrous, dreamy concert, with soothing music and lively melodies that carry your imagination to far-off places. Viswanathan says his band actually explores the intersection of Indian classical music and jazz, ambient music and electric experiments.

A music professor at York University by day, Viswanathan has both academic credentials and serious jazz chops. He has played with big names like Dave Holland and Wynton Marsalis, as well as with recent trailblazers like Vijay Iyer and Rez Abassi. If you would like to hear his forthcoming album, go to avataar.bandcamp.com or soundcloud.com/sundar-viswanathan.

Petal is both high energy and dreamy. Can you talk about your influences for the album?

You describe it well. The range of my influences is broad, from jazz to classical to Indian classical, to Brazilian and Indonesian Gamelan, to groove, to ambient and New Age type music. More specifically, my influences include Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett, Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin), John Coltrane, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ornette Coleman, Shakti, Zakhir Hussain, Paul Motian trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, Scriabin, Alban Berg, Trilok Gurtu, Nitin Sawhney, and artists like DJ Shadow, Enya, Bliss, and Loreena McKennitt. There are many others that have influenced me in my compositional path, but I think these have had a more direct impact on this album

What sound were you trying to achieve? How do you wish listeners to interpret and use your music?

I came at this music quite from a cinematic perspective -- not that I was influenced directly by any film music, but I wanted the music to go beyond a 'jazz-type' of song form, to take the audience on a journey, an experience. Without getting too technical, I wanted the music to transcend common song structures that are used in jazz (like the blues form, and tin-pan alley song forms). I really wanted to bring an other-worldly quality to the music, but still have places where there it's grooving. Given the themes within the record (I'll talk more about that below) I felt like I needed to create music that had a broader perspective and that perhaps might ask emotionally from the listener, more than my previous CDs had.

There are many ways that this music can be interpreted. I wanted to let the listeners draw her/his own conclusions -- this is why I didn't include extensive liner notes about the meanings of the songs. The two songs with lyrics and the last track, though, give some insight into the meanings of the CD as a whole. The main themes are impermanence, universal consciousness and the idea of no-mind. Having two little children, I've often watched them and been struck by how small and fragile they are. Through them, I've also observed the reality of my own mortality, and of the fact that nothing lasts forever. With regard to the idea of no-mind, I'd been reading some great dialogues by the Indian mystic Osho -- he talks about the idea of there being no 'mind', just a series of photographs that we put together in our brain that creates our past and projects our present. I directed the singer, Felicity Williams, toward some of these ideas and she wrote lyrics around them for the record. And I've always believed that there's an invisible connection, a vibration, between all humanity, and really, all life. With regard to the record, though, at the end of the day, I just hope that I can move my listeners to a place of some emotional depth.

Can you describe the process of writing and recording the album?

I usually get the initial melodic ideas or a bassline and sing them into my phone and work with them later. Then I typically write my music alone, in my basement. It ends up being a very intuitive process; quite often I get inspired by the theme, or the title of the song. If I don't feel moved myself it's very difficult for me to put out interesting material -- by the way, most composers will tell you that you should be able to write whether you're inspired or not (I guess I'm not a natural).

Most of the time I don't go back and edit my writing in great detail; sometimes there are small things that I change/add/remove. With this music, there was some editing and revision during rehearsals -- some of my bandmates suggested things that we liked, and then incorporated into the tunes.

How does your south Asian heritage come into play in the album? (and did I hear Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sampled somewhere along the way?)

Apart from using some 'South Asian-sounding' scales in my songs (a couple are actually based directly on ragas) and drones, I try to capture an essence or an atmosphere that you might hear on an Indian classical music recording. Sometimes I get this from some subtleties within the interpretation of the music, and other times from the production and sound that I request from the artists. Also, Felicity and I have studied some Indian Classical music, and Ravi (who plays tabla) and Justin (the bass) are trained extensively in it -- they studied in India for long periods of time. Ultimately, though, I try to create a vibe in the music and try to capture some of the mystery and beauty of Indian classical music.

What is it about the saxophone and jazz music that attracts you?

Saxophone I kind of fell into in high school because after I got braces, I could no longer play trumpet. Of course, now I realize it's the greatest instrument ever created. Seriously though, it's a very lyrical and vocal instrument and I find it connects with my singing (though I don't sing on this record). And jazz -- it was the freedom that excited me. I really wanted to be able to improvise and spontaneously create those beautiful melodies that I heard my heroes (like Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley) put together so effortlessly.

How do you find inspiration for your music?

I mentioned stuff that I read ... that's a big one. I also find world events moving and inspiring. Banda Aceh (one of the tracks on the CD) was written for those that survived the tsunami of 2009 on the island of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. These are powerful events that I think everyone can't help but have an emotional reaction to -- everyone just has a different way of expressing these emotions. Sometimes as well, I just try to look inside myself for inspiration -- just the fact that we're alive can be inspiring in itself.

What made you decide to pursue music as a career?

It wasn't always my first choice. I had computers in my eye up until Grade 13, but math wasn't my favourite subject. I kind of fell into music -- I was always involved in music (rock bands in high school, etc.) -- but I didn't think to take it seriously as a career path until the end of high school. Now that I think back, it's like it chose me; I was an introvert all through school, and music was always very familiar and comforting to me. It made sense for me to follow that path.

What do you teach at York?

I teach private lessons, jazz theory at the undergrad and grad levels, and composition at undergrad and grad. I also developed and teach a course on the music of Bollywood films.

What are you working on these days?

The Avataar project can be pretty demanding, time-wise. In truth, I don't have as much time for it as it deserves. I am trying to put together some concert projects and touring, though. I think this music could touch a lot of people not just in Canada and the U.S., but also in Europe and elsewhere. But, like most jazz musicians I'm not only the musician, but also the agent, and it's incredibly demanding, physically, as well. If my energy keeps up (and my kids let me do my work) I expect there will be some good concert dates in our future.

. . .

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca - THE SUDBURY STAR

"Quote from noted South Asian jazz guitarist REZ ABBASI"

"If being a great artist means having the ability to convey one's inner most spirit and identity, then Sundar is that artist. His music flows in and out of myriad places, cultures and styles yet gives the listener a tangible whole to bask in - a task that requires a lot of grace!" Rez Abbasi -

"The Drum/The Song/The Dance/The Inner World/Jazz/Who I Heard"

The Drum/The Song/The Dance/The Inner World/Jazz/Who I Heard – part 2
by David Fujino with photos by Mike Colyer
A thoughtful tone was set as Sundar & The Avataar Collective began with a repeating 4-note bass/tabla/voice unison that carefully arced into an Arabic-sounding, sinuous motif. Then John Kameel Farrah's skittering piano and Felicity Williams' exacting voice work swelled together to usher in an extended tabla conversation from Ravi Naimpally. Sundar's angular soprano solo grew investigative. Felicity sang in tricky intervals, and the piano vamped in sync. Soprano sax and voice took the tune out.

"Anger" was interesting because of its slow burn. There were no emotional flare-ups; instead, there was a building mood of voice chant, piano tinkles and shivering percussion. An agitated soprano/piano line next contrasted with the slow 'hang' of voice. Release came in the form of a soprano/voice duet of intricate interval stepping. A solo from Sundar and a solo from Felicity Williams becalmed the room. Very nice.

Soprano/voice match-ups were central to Sundar's jazz compositions. There was a Hindi intoning to these match-ups, a lonely sound that explored life's cycles of tension ("Twilight"), and release, as in "Tranquility", where voice and soprano together sang a slow aching tune vaguely reminiscent of Joe Zawinul's "In A Silent Way". It was a quiet benediction, a concluding peaceful moment.

Sundar's music is clearly a spiritual search for unity amidst the variety of forces that flow through life. Technically, it's an intelligent mix of the scales and tabla beats of Hindu music with the harmonies and rhythms of jazz. Like Hilario Duran, Sundar plays from his roots, but extends his search into the multicultural mix that many of us call jazz. - The Live Music Report





AVATAAR is a World-jazz group led by award-winning and multiple Juno-nominated saxophonist/composer/vocalist Sundar. The music marries Classical Indian music, modern jazz, Brazilian lyricism, atmospheric textures and ambiance, Javanese gamelan, and contemporary improvisation. The sound has drawn comparison to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Keith Jarrett with Jan Garbarek, late Coltrane, and Oregon. The resulting confluence is a mesmerizing blend of rhythmic hypnotism, sonic landscapes and soaring melody that marries ancient and modern musical sounds.

The fresh sound features saxophonist/flutist/composer Sundar Viswanathan, vocalist Felicity Williams (Bahamas, Hobson's Choice), tabla maestro Ravi Naimpally (Tasa), guitarist Michael Occhipinti (Sicilian Jazz Project, Don Byron, Bruce Cockburn), bassist Justin Gray (Monsoon, David Liebman, Subanker Banarjee) and drummer Giampaolo Scatozza (Paul Young, Tom Jones ).

'Petal' is Avataar's debut (Oct. 2015) release. Cleverly layered and cinematic in scope, the music drives and swirls through a vast sonic palette. The album is questing in nature - the concepts of impermanence and universal consciousness feature in many of the compositions, as do first-rate musical interpretations and improvisations by the group's members.

The group has appeared at the Markham Jazz Festival, Small World Festival, the Sudbury Jazz Festival, the Brampton Global Jazz Festival, the Lula Lounge and several other venues and represents a cross-section of some of Canada's finest World, Jazz and Pop artists.

On Avataar:

“Sundar's music is clearly a spiritual search for unity amidst the variety of forces that flow through life.” David Fujino, thelivemusicreport.com

Band Members