Dr. Rick – Ramona, please give us some of your background. Tell us where you studied music, maybe some of your biggest influences as a student of music.
Ramona – I grew up in Bombay, India where I had most of my formal musical training. Born into a musician’s family I was fortunate to have had private piano lessons in classical music twice a week starting at the age of six. In addition to practicing the instrument, assignments in music theory and history were aplenty. In junior high I got good enough to sub at school for the music teacher when she called in sick 🙂 This was my first solo gig playing experience, it was stress-free and a lot of fun. My listening and playing revolved around classical music during these years; in particular I enjoyed practicing Bach, Debussy and Bartok. Aside from some Brubeck and Jobim albums that were part of my Dad’s collection, I wasn’t really exposed to much jazz then. I also grew up listening to church music – Anglican hymns, psalms and choral works, and at sixteen was pumping the pedals of the old reed organ at church during choir practices and services. Hearing such rich harmonies and elegant vocal parts may have been instrumental in steering me toward the multi-layered, polyphonic style of writing I do today. Lastly there was an ubiquitous presence of film music in the background, which my father, a studio musician and arranger wrote – a blend of traditional and folk music tailored for Bollywood films. So while I didn’t actively study or play it, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. Later as a teenager, I heard Corea’s ‘Light As A Feather’ which may have been instrumental in changing my focus from classical music to the unknown and infinitely more challenging world of jazz and improvisation. I’d say my best teachers were all the jazz players whose music I transcribed, analyzed and tried to imitate.
“Who’s Your Mama” opens this recording, with the trumpet of Ingrid Jensen intoning the the notes to NPR’s “Morning Edition” before the band takes the piece on a romp. It’s a fitting and joyful beginning to the program, pianist/composer/vocalist Borthwick’s second release as a leader. She’s a fine player, displaying a style that has its roots in mainstream jazz. Her solos are often lyrical (listen to the beauty and strength of the title track) and she can really dig into her phrases. Her wordless vocals add yet another color to several of the tracks, mixing well with the guitar and trumpet or flugelhorn. One hears the influences of Pat Metheny and McCoy Tyner in many of these pieces (and Herbie Hancock in several of the solos.) Her compositions are smartly constructed, with the rhythm section of Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Adam Cruz (drums) really pushing the pieces along. Continue reading →
Great new release by Boston pianist and composer, Ramona Borthwick. This contemporary release embraces beautiful melody and an undying sense of groove. The group dynamic is superb, and the rhythmic interaction, from Rubato, time signature differences, straight eighth feels to straight ahead swing is met with a confidence and musicality. The soloists are excellent, spatial and melodic.
Disc starts with Who’s Your Mama. Ingrid Jesen really opens with a beautiful statement. Her sound is round and inviting. The tune embraces different melodic statements, with Ramona singing a wordless vocal style over an inviting melody. Then the solo’s hit with a hard groove. Many will enjoy this small group arrangement which delivers a big sound. Most of you know what a dynamic soloist Ingrid is, but Noel and Ramona are musical forces on this disc.
By JOHN McDONOUGH | Downbeat Magazine “HotBox” review | May 2010
“Borthwick, who authored all the pieces in this self- produced and self-released CD, walks both sides of the street, playing excellent, if not quite distinctive, straightahead piano throughout, while adding her shimmering, wordless soprano lines to selected ensembles along the way. She does this sparingly, sometimes subtlety, and frequently hauntingly, never scatting or soloing but instead embedding and camouflaging herself deep into meticulously orchestrated unison lines in which her voice seems to float on piano, guitar and horn…” —JOHN McDONOUGH, Downbeat Magazine
“I like the warm spiritual vibe, especially Borthwick’s wordless vocals, a la Flora Purim.” —PAUL de BARROS, Downbeat Magazine
Sound Contest: Ciao Ramona, grazie per aver accettato la nostra intervista per i lettori di Sound Contest. C’e’ qualcosa di nuovo – aria nuova – in questo tuo ultimo CD, One Of Us… una palpabile maturazione delle tue composizioni…
Ramona Borthwick: Grazie a voi. E’ stato molto piacevole scrivere questa musica, ed io sono sempre impaziente di riascoltare i risultati delle registrazioni con la band in studio. Parlando poi di maturita’ – spero che sia una buona cosa (ride) – immagino che il trascorrere del tempo mi abbia rilassato nell’accettare il jazz come un approccio piuttosto che uno specifico genere o stile. E’ come essere autorizzati ad infondere idee da frontiere esterne al jazz, le cui possibilita’ possono essere illimitate. La musica del nuovo CD e scritta per un quintetto, ma richiederebbe un numero maggiore degli strumenti per suonarla, quindi e’ l’uso della voce e delle sovrapposizioni di diverse parti di tromba e chitarra che a volte fanno suonare il quintetto, per cosi’ dire, come una “piccola big band”.
Daughter of famous Bollywood composer Enoch Daniels, pianist Ramona Borthwick took her first musical steps in Bombay and there, along with husband, guitarist Noel Borthwick, recorded “Sound Matters” precisely 20 years ago, one of the first recordings of contemporary jazz in India. She later moved to Boston, where parallel to music, she got involved with graphic and web design.
“One Of Us” is her second album and continues to be based on the same artistic blend of swing and lyricism which was present in her debut album in 2006 (“A New Leaf”). Ramona has the ability to match difficult rhythms and melodies, and builds a complex mosaic of components found in modern jazz, European music, sometimes in the Indian tradition and often in Latin, especially when accompanied by the piano with flexible vocal phonetics. The rare gift of being an equally good pianist, singer and songwriter, makes a difference to a degree that can hardly go unnoticed.
Aesthetically there seem to be no boundaries, and she has no problem transitioning from an acoustic environment (the romantic “One Of Us”) to an electric Fender Rhodes (as in the modal “Resident Alien”), or in the introduction of the Eastern “Gaia” and the constant changes of “Chinese Whispers”,
with the cheerful Latin “Rio Alegre” closing the album. All the musicians have played brilliantly, the band comprising Noel Borthwick on guitar, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorm, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Adam Cruz on drums.
Pianist Ramona Borthwick is nothing if not generous—offering up over seventy minutes of quality music on this, her second recording as leader. That the music is constantly arresting is testament to the quality of the arrangements and, in equal measure, to the virtuosity displayed by her quintet.
In effect, the quintet becomes at times a sextet as Borthwick employs her voice like an additional wind instrument to wonderful effect, adding rich harmonic and melodic tones to the music. Blending her voice with the guitar lines of Noel Borthwick or the trumpet/flugelhorn of Ingrid Jensen, she creates quite beautiful harmonies.
ONE OF US | Ramona Borthwick, Leitmotif 2010 By RAUL d’GAMA ROSE, Editor, AAJ | January 17, 2010
The wonderful music of One of Us dwells on the interconnection of all things. Pianist Ramona Borthwick and her quartet make this happen on two important levels. First, they play from the same script as if they had studied the pages and came to make each their own in a very special and individual way. Second, there is a seamless connection between each of the songs and the quartet’s leader; Borthwick brings her considerable talent in weaving everything together with a secret gossamer thread. Both of these attributes speak volumes about the sensitivity with which each of the musicians handles the considerably—sometimes dense—material.
Ramona Borthwick proves that there is some depth among younger composers. Her bright work is agape at the immensity of all things. It appears that she looks at the world with childlike wonder, but is also privy to the true and deep nature of what she sees. This is reflected in the fluidity and the exquisite allure that is woven through each melody. Borthwick also leads and inspires colorful and artful harmonic invention throughout. She has a willing ally in trumpeter/flugelhornist Ingrid Jensen, whose memorable work here is absolutely magnificent; she plays each note as if it were her last. The result is solos like the music of dew on leaves—pristine, and each ringing with priceless wonderment.
By MAURIZIO SPENNATO | altriSuoni.org |December 2006 (Thanks to Stephan Cocron for translating the article from the original Italian into English)
A New Leaf is the very diverse and interesting debut CD from pianist and composer Ramona Borthwick. Indian by origin and English by adoption, Borthwick avoids every temptation of dominating or abusing her position with respect to her valid collaborators , and instead gives each of her fellow musicians the space they need to fully express themselves creatively, resulting in a resounding success.
In this project Ramona takes on many different styles of music, from ballads, like the track A New Leaf, to the passages of Home, which starts with a strong rhythmic component and then moves to flamboyant, almost tribal repetitive vocals, and then flows to unexpected resolutions and modern, original phrases that seem to want to repeat over and over again; in short, the song spans the entire cycle of the evolution of human musical expression, ranging from the early rudimentary beginnings to the construction of more contemporary avant-garde and innovative styles.
But there is no lack of other musical styles on this CD, which features some latin jazz tracks as well as influences from other parts of the world. These influences can be heard coming from the likes of Argentinean bassist Fernando Huergo, the strong and evocative presence of American trumpetist Phil Grenadier, as well as constant support of Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz and finally the result of Borthwick’s passionate search for additional vocals leading to singer, bassist, and composer, Esperanza Spalding.
All of the tracks were composed by Ramona, with the exception of Two’s Complement, which was co-written by trusted collaborator Noel Borthwick, and Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice, which was written entirely by Noel. Apart from being the guitarist of the group, Noel supervised all of the technical aspects of the CD; his regular gig is “software engineer” in the music industry, developing digital audio for recording engineers from around the world.
All the work is then pervaded by a subtle poetic vein (inspiration), which becomes palpable in the printed lyrics that complete the music and in which the individual tracks are commented on by Ramona and accompanied by delicate verses of poetry.
The result, then, is music, and poetry, but much more than that: even the graphical aspects of the CD were designed by Ramona, because as a complete artist, it is clear that all of visual, graphical, and Web, etc, arts, are all interconnected. All you need to do is take a glance at her website and you will see right away that she is a truly accomplished, “all encompassing” artist…
——————————————————— (Original article as published in the Italian magazine AltriSuoni)
Molto vario ed interessante questo A New Leaf, il primo CD inciso da leader dalla pianista e compositrice, indiana di origine ed inglese di adozione, Ramona Borthwick che, evitando ogni tentazione di protagonismo e di prevaricazione nei riguardi dei suoi validi collaboratori e lasciando a ciascuno tutto lo spazio necessario per esprimersi compiutamente, ha conseguito un risultato brillante.
In questo lavoro Ramona si è confrontata con diversi stili, dalle ballads, come nel brano A New Leaf, ai passaggi di Home, caratterizzati inizialmente da una forte componente ritmica e da vocalizzi ostentatamente ripetitivi, quasi tribali, e successivamente da risoluzioni inaspettate e fraseggi melodici moderni ed originali, che sembrano voler ripercorrere così, in breve, tutto il percorso evolutivo dell’espressione musicale del genere umano, dalle rudimentali espressioni delle origini ai costrutti più avanguardistici e spregiudicati dei giorni nostri.
Non mancano infatti spunti modali, brani in puro stile latin-jazz ed altre influenze musicali di varie parti del mondo, dovute anche all’incontro con il bassista argentino Fernando Huergo, alla presenza forte e significativa del trombettista statunitense Phil Grenadier, al sostegno costante del batterista di origine israeliana Ziv Ravitz e una sensibile ricerca in campo vocale della stessa Borthwick assistita dalla vocalist, ma anche bassista e compositrice, Esperanza Spalding.
Tutte le composizioni sono di Ramona, con l’eccezione di Two’s Complement, di cui è coautore il fidato Noel Borthwick e Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice di cui è autore proprio Noel che, oltre ad essere il chitarrista del gruppo, ha curato gli aspetti tecnici del CD, anche grazie all’altra sua professione, quella di ‘software engineer’ che opera proprio nel campo dei software musicali e delle registrazioni digitali per note case di livello mondiale.
Tutto il lavoro è poi pervaso da una sottile vena poetica, che diventa palpabile nel libretto che completa la musica ed in cui, i singoli brani, sono commentati dalla stessa Ramona ed accompagnati da delicati versi di poesia.
Musica, dunque, e poesia, ma non solo: anche gli aspetti grafici del Cd sono stati curati da Ramona stessa; già, perché altra sua attività è proprio quella di occuparsi di arti grafiche, web e quant’altro ad essi connesso. Basta dare un’occhiata al suo sito per avere l’immediata percezione di un’artista ‘a tutto tondo’…
With RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006
Rick Holland: Thank-you Ramona for taking some time with us and our listeners at JR47. I just wanted to tell you, I’ve been enjoying your new disc, A New Leaf. I think what really captured my attention was the influence of World rhythms that involves your music. Can you share with us how you feel Jazz has cross pollinated into world music? Ramona Borthwick: That is an interesting question, since this is relatively a more common phenomenon the other way around – world music cross pollinating jazz. Jazz itself might be considered world music in a sense, since its origins can be traced to the synthesis of Afro-European influences. Although my early music education was in western classical music, I grew up in India, a country where traditional and folk music is pretty much part of everyday life. With its regional diversity and profusion of religions, there are festivals occurring monthly if not more often, with music being an integral part of celebration and worship. In such an environment it’s hard not to have cultural influences leak into one’s expression of music, and often it is an unconscious process. So although I didn’t actively study or play traditional Indian music, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. And then there were Brazilian and other South American influences that came from listening to music from other parts of the globe. Ultimately, I believe that the best music comes from letting yourself play what needs to be played from inside you, without forcing it, or it can end up sounding contrived especially if you add stylistic elements for the sake of exotic value. The beautiful thing about jazz is how the form accommodates other stylistic elements while still retaining its core style. We are seeing more and more international jazz artists from Europe and other continents, combining native influences into their music in an organic manner.
By RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006
Ramona Borthwick’s A New Leaf is a new recording which introduces Ramona as a composer, bandleader and fine
pianist. She surrounds herself with some fine musicians including guitarist Noel Borthwick, to bring us a set of new music which pushes the boundaries both harmonically and rhythmically. The result is a fresh and creative disc that is not for the faint of heart.
One of the captivating things about Ramona’s music is she is so influenced by world rhythms, and she is able to incorporate these rhythmic ideas into her landscaped compositions. Her tunes convey contrast, and they seem to have a story-like quality to them. This is jazz music that reflects world ideals and these ideals are translated in a variety of ways to give the listener contrasting viewpoints.
Ramona is joined by Noel Borthwick, a fine guitarist, who is a proclaimed self-taught musician. However, Noel spent a year of private study with acclaimed Indian sarod player Shekhar Borkar. His primary concentration happened in his late teens. He began to develop a strong interest in bebop, modal and mainstream jazz styles, and was inspired by guitarists such as Pat Martino, Joe Pass, Jack Wilkins and the music of John Coltrane. Noel brings a genuine sense of joy to this project, and is a fine compliment to Ramona and her group. Continue reading →
TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF By JENETTE BARNES The Standard Times, August 10, 2006
Whaling City Sound artist Ramona Borthwick says that what she loves about jazz is the improvisation. Rooted in traditional jazz, Ramona Borthwick’s sound reflects her
international life: She was born in India, and lived in Ottawa, Canada, before moving to Boston seven years ago. The jazz pianist will perform this evening as part of AHA! Night, a monthly arts and culture night in downtown New Bedford.
Her latest album, “A New Leaf,” released in May on Whaling City Sound, spans 10 years of composition and performance. One track, “Ottawa Thaw,” expresses her longing for spring after long Canadian winters; “Home” is a reminder of India, but makes a statement about feeling at home in other places, too, Ms. Borthwick said. “That’s what home really means,” she said, “is to make yourself at home where you are, (so) you are no longer pining. It’s just freeing. It’s kind of like comfort food.” Continue reading →
Jazz pianist Ramona Borthwick, a native of India who has lived in Canada for a long time, makes her recording debut as a leader with A New Leaf, a quintet date which focuses on her formidable skills as a composer and arranger. Accompanied by guitarist Noel Borthwick, bassist Fernando Huergo, trumpeter Phil Grenadier, and drummer Ziv Ravitz,
Borthwick effortlessly blends influences from the music of many lands throughout the sessions.
The lush opener is the easygoing, Latin-flavored ballad “A New Leaf,” featuring a fragile solo by Grenadier that is reminiscent of Tom Harrell, along with Borthwick’s lyrical piano. Noel Borthwick contributed the brisk but eerie “Dark Secrets of Three Blind Mice,” in which the guitarist and trumpeter exchange licks over the pulsating rhythm section to build the tension until it releases into a more conventional post-bop setting. Vocalist Esperanza Spalding (with the pianist singing the rhythm underneath her lead) is added for the infectious, multicultural “Garbarero,” which blends elements of Argentinean and Indian rhythm in a powerful post-bop setting, as well as the lively samba “Lotus Lake.”
Ramona Borthwick has made a major statement with this superb initial release.