Ragamala Paintings Alive!

Contemporary jazz with influences from India and Africa

Phil Scarff soprano saxophone, electronic tamboura
Rohan Gregory violin
Mike Rivard bass
Jerry Leake tabla, gung-gong, frame drum, bells
Bertram Lehmann drum set

Special guest: Jayshree Bala Rajamani voice

Release Date: October 13, 2023
Catalog #: BR8983
Format: Digital
21st Century

Composed by Phil Scarff and performed by world-jazz ensemble Natraj, RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! shines a contemporary light on historic artwork from India. The members of Natraj individually and collectively bring a wealth of experience exploring the intersection of jazz and global musical traditions. Their stunning performance showcased in this release is wide ranging, deep, and accessible, while firmly rooted in the rich tapestry of Indian classical music. RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! is part of a larger multimedia work created in collaboration with Indian classical dancer Jayshree Bala Rajamani, incorporating dance, music, spoken word, and projected images. It brings to life historic ragamala paintings, with each painting representing one Indian classical raga or melodic framework. Inspired by Modest Mussorgsky and his iconic work, Pictures at an Exhibition, Scarff threads the suite together with musical “promenades” that represent the viewer entering and moving about an art gallery, with each theme anticipating a painting or set of paintings to come. Whether heard on its own or experienced as a full multimedia performance, RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! takes listeners on a compelling contemporary journey that celebrates classic ragamala paintings from India.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Promenade (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj | Phil Scarff soprano saxophone, electronic tamboura; Rohan Gregory, violin; Mike Rivard, bass; Jerry Leake, tabla, gung-gong, frame drum, bells; Bertram Lehmann, drum set 2:23
02 Malkos Raga and Todi Ragini, Part 1 (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 6:47
03 Malkos Raga and Todi Ragini, Part 2 (Ragas Gujari Todi and Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 7:35
04 Promenade 2 (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 2:43
05 Kanado Ragini (Raga Darbari Kanada) Phil Scarff Natraj 11:34
06 Promenade 3 (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 3:23
07 Bhairav Raga Phil Scarff Natraj 7:16
08 Bhairavi Ragini Phil Scarff Natraj 6:06
09 Bilawal Ragini and Vilaval Ragputra, Part 1 (Raga Alhaiya Bilaval) Phil Scarff Natraj 5:42
10 Bilawal Ragini and Vilaval Ragputra, Part 2 (Raga Alhaiya Bilaval) Phil Scarff, Guru K. J. Govindarajan Natraj; Jayshree Bala Rajamani, voice 4:12
11 Promenade 4 (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 4:05
12 Promenade Reprise (Raga Malkauns) Phil Scarff Natraj 1:37

All tracks composed and arranged by Phil Scarff (BMI), except Track 10, composed by Phil Scarff based on a jathi (rhythmic work) by Guru K. J. Govindarajan, and Track 11, arranged by Phil Scarff and Jerry Leake

Recorded August 29, 2022, by Peter Kontrimas, Peter’s Basement Studio in Westwood MA
Producer Phil Scarff
Editing & Mixing Randy Roos, Squam Sound
Mastering Mark Donahue, Sound/Mirror

Voice on Track 10 recorded on December 9, 2022, by Phil Scarff in Winchester MA

Front cover image taken from Bilawal Ragini painting. Ragamala paintings courtesy of Cornell University Library www.library.cornell.edu

Bertam Lehmann endorses Murat Diril Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, DEM Sticks, Aquarian Drumheads, and Black Swamp Percussion.

Mike Rivard uses Fishman transducers and David Gage Realist pickups.

Program text by Jayshree Bala Rajamani, Phil Scarff

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Kacie Brown

Artist Information




Natraj melds the classical music of India, traditional music from West Africa, and contemporary jazz to create its own unique and infectious style. Hard-driving African grooves and graceful Indian ragas meet in the band’s expansive jazz conception. Selected as Boston’s Best Jazz Band by the Improper Bostonian and nominated Best World Music Act in the Boston Music Awards, Natraj captivates and excites audiences with exotic textures, accessible melodies, and rhythmic energy.

Phil Scarff

Phil Scarff

Composer, Saxophonist

Phil Scarff has pioneered the performance of North Indian classical (Hindustani) music on soprano saxophone, capturing the music's subtlety and depth. His performance at the famed Tansen Samaroh, Gwalior, India with Saskia Rao de Haas was "the highlight of the festival" (Dainik Bhaskar). He has made Indian classical appearances at India's Nehru Center, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and Dadar-Matunga Cultural Centre (Mumbai); Saptak School of Music (Ahmedabad); Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture (Kolkata); ICCR Theater and India Habitat Centre (Delhi); JKK (Jaipur); and Pt Chatur Lal Festival (virtual).

Rohan Gregory

Rohan Gregory


Rohan Gregory, violinist, has cultivated a wide-ranging expertise in chamber music, new music, and world music. His travels have taken him to Europe and Brazil with the Klezmatics, to Panama with flamenco guitarist Juanito Pascual, to Thailand with multi-ethnic flute player Abbie Rabinowitz, to India with Natraj, to Russia and the Netherlands with the Arden String Quartet, and across the United States with his Greek folk band Revma.

Mike Rivard

Mike Rivard


Bassist Mike Rivard defies easy categorization and finds himself at home in a bewildering array of settings, from the low-rock of Mark Sandman and Morphine, to the mountains of Morocco with local Berber musicians, with side trips into the Broadway pits of The Lion King and Wicked, and sessions with Medeski, Martin & Wood. Growing up in the wide expanses of Minnesota, he took in the local sounds of Prince, Husker Du, and the free-jazz coming out of the Dinkytown/University of Minnesota milieu, before heading to Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1981.

Jerry Leake

Jerry Leake


Jerry Leake is a Professor of World Percussion at Berklee College of Music, the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, and the New England Conservatory (Jazz and CMA). He leads the world-rock-fusion band Cubist whose albums feature his skill as a composer, arranger, and performer. He is a co-founder of the Indo/Jazz band Natraj and the dub/trance/groove collective Club d’Elf.

Betram Lehmann

Bertram Lehmann


Based in Boston for over three decades, Bertram Lehmann’s supple and fluid style of drumming has made him a sought-after player within a multitude of musical contexts in the region and beyond, performing in Jazz, South-American, and many other global genres.

Jayshree Bala Rajamani

Jayshree Bala Rajamani


Jayshree Bala Rajamani is one of the leading practitioners and teachers of the ancient Indian dance form of Bharathanatyam in Massachusetts. She was initiated into this art by her mother and then came under the tutelage of eminent Guru K.J. Govindarajan. She specialized in Abhinaya with Guru Jamuna Krishnan.


The musical suite presented in this recording is part of a multimedia work created by Indian classical dancer and choreographer Jayshree Bala Rajamani and me. The full multimedia presentation involves dance, music, spoken word, and projected images, and is performed by world-jazz ensemble Natraj and Jayshree.

I was initially inspired to create this work by my participation in Aardvark Jazz Orchestra’s performance of Paintings for Jazz Orchestra a number of years ago. This is a suite composed by Mark Harvey and based on jazz-inspired paintings by Stuart Davis. We performed it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with projected images of the paintings.

Stuart Davis painted images of jazz. Similarly, centuries earlier, Indian artists created images of ragas, or Indian classical melodic systems. I initially envisioned a suite based on ragamala paintings, which could be performed with projected images. The ragamala paintings were created from the 1500’s through the 1700’s in various locations across North India. Each painting generally represents one raga. Ragas are further classified and organized into family groups: Ragas represent male figures, raginis represent wives, and ragputras represent sons.

I was also inspired by Modest Mussorgsky’s classic suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. One aspect I am drawn to is his concept of promenades, which represent the viewer entering and moving about the art gallery. Mussorgsky’s promenades are based on a common theme taken from the final movement of his suite. I built on that approach such that, in addition to having a common theme, each of the first three promenades anticipates an aspect of a painting to come.

As my creative process progressed, my initial concept for RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! expanded to include dance. I recruited Jayshree Bala Rajamani to collaborate on the project, and contribute her choreographic vision and stellar dancing. Together we developed and refined the concept, and selected the paintings. Jayshree framed the basic storylines and I composed the movements based on both the paintings and the storylines.

With one exception, the musical compositions stay true to the underlying ragas. We have not attempted to reconstruct how the ragas were performed in the era when the paintings were created, but present them in their contemporary form and in the context of Indo-Afro-jazz compositions.

This music shines a contemporary light on classic ragamala paintings. Expect the unexpected in this adventurous modern work!

— Phil Scarff

Promenade, based on Raga Malkauns

The viewer enters the art gallery to a brief rendition of the fast tempo Malkauns theme from [03] Malkos Raga and Todi Ragini, Part 2.

Malkos Raga and Todi Ragini, based on Ragas Malkauns and Gujari Todi

Malkos Raga: The young maiden is feeling excited because the great King Malkos is coming to hear her sing. She performs brilliantly, but the king seems preoccupied. He gifts her his pearl necklace as a token of appreciation, but the young maiden is disappointed at his lack of interest during her rendition.

Malkos Raga

Todi Ragini: Still recovering from her experience with the king, the maiden goes to the edge of the forest to sing for nature. The graceful antelope, Todi, comes to drink sacred water from the nearby pond, and is mesmerized by her voice. The ecstatic Todi dances a mambo in sheer joy!

Todi Ragini

This movement closes with a musical tug-of-war between King Malkos and Todi. Listen closely to find out who wins!

Promenade 2, based on Raga Malkauns

Promenade 2 brings the viewer to the next section of the gallery. In this segment, the opening Promenade theme is reset to the West African Agbekor rhythm, anticipating the elephant scene in the next movement.

Kanado Ragini, based on Raga Darbari Kanada

Kanado Ragini

The dignified King Kanado comes to rest with his queen. She marvels at his dark skin, his flashing eyes, his powerful gait, and the fear that he instills in his enemies. While they relax, they are surprised by a disturbance. The queen is horrified to see that the king’s attendants have shackled an elephant so the king may de-tusk it in an exhibition of “power” and “supremacy.” The queen is so repulsed that this leads to an animated altercation between the king and queen. The queen saves the life of the mighty elephant, ensuring its safe release back into the wild.

Promenade 3, based on Raga Malkauns

The Promenade theme, reset to a tango, portends a love-tryst. What will the viewer see in the next area of the gallery?

Bhairav Raga, based on Raga Bhairav

Bhairav Raga

The divine cosmic dancer, the great Lord Shiva, stirs the soul with His dance. Also known as Bhairav, he embodies both destructive and meditative personas. In this painting, He is depicted smeared in ash, with matted locks, and adorned with snakes and skulls. This movement contrasts this destructive side with His meditative identity.

Bhairavi Ragini, based on Raga Bhairavi

Bhairavi Ragini

Bhairavi, or Parvati, is deeply in love with Bhairav, and decides to pray to Him and shower Him with her love and devotion in the hope that He opens His heart to her.

Bilawal Ragini and Vilaval Ragputra, based on Raga Alhaiya Bilaval

Bilawal Ragini: The female protagonist, Bhairavi, is in a state of Bilawal, or happiness, as her Lord has revealed His heart to her and agrees to unite with her. She prepares herself for this moment by carefully dressing herself. She decorates her home, and then enjoys the music performed by celestial musicians.

Bilawal Ragini

Do you notice the mirror in the painting? It’s reflected in the music. The sequence of notes in one line of the composition is the mirror image of the sequence in another line. Can you identify the two lines of the composition that mirror each other?

Vilaval Ragputra

Vilaval Ragputra, animation by Asavari Scarff
Vilaval Ragaputra: In a state of sheer excitement and happiness the Lord and His love interest come closer and closer and ultimately unite!
Promenade 4 and Promenade Reprise, based on Raga Malkauns

The viewer exits the gallery accompanied by the Promenade theme reset to a bhangra rhythm as a shehnai-style dhun or folk song. RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! concludes with a brief reprise of the opening Promenade.