Event Review: Jazz Yatra
India's International Jazz Festival
Jazz is arguably the most
argumentative form of music (even has diminished
and augmented chords). So at the outset, let me
present my side of the argument. Jazz is musical
improvisation, right? Indian classical music is
improvisation, still right? Granted, Indian music
does not have the harmonies of the west. But the
keyword here is improvisation and not harmony,
absolutely right? Indian classical music has
been around for more than two thousand years.
The Americans discovered Jazz less than a
hundred years ago. Now that we have
established India as the birthplace of Jazz,
lets head for the Indian Jazz Yatra.
Surfacing on day one are the cats (kangaroos?)
from down under, Jamie Oehlers Quintet and the
Perth Jazz Orchestra. Jamie opens. Good band.
Great Jazz. Jamie and the boys are jamminí, alright. On to act two, which is...ahem, an
extended remix of act one. Jamie and the boys
brought their buddies along to form the Perth
Jazz Orchestra! Itís always a thrill hearing the
powerful and dynamic sounds of a big band.
Reminds me about what teamwork is all about.
Each and every member looked really happy to be
a small part of the big picture. Standing out
and upfront with the big band was vocalist Mark
Underwood, with a rich and velvety voice that
reached out and caressed the audience. A very
enjoyable evening, and a good start for Jazz Yatra.
Met up with lots of old and new friends, all
sharing a common love for music being created
live. Day one was the Aussies night out. Pity we
didnít get to hear their musical instrument
called didgeridoo or didgerididnt or something.
Day two features Jazz Yatraís trump card, trumpet player Dave Douglas from the U.S. of A., voted as worlds best trumpet player by readers
of Downbeat magazine and Archie comics. Satya,
led by Dave, settles down on stage, I mean sits
down on stage. Just then, heaven walks past me in
her tiniest black number. Tosses her tresses and
glances in my direction. Music begins. Band
hasnít begun. Chaos. Band begins. Wrench myself
back to earth. Satyaís seated in a neat semi
circle, Myra cross-legged on harmonium, Dave
cross eyed on trumpet, Samir and Sanghamitra
cross country on tabla and tanpura, respectively.
Dave looks like a snake charmer about to charm a
snake right out of Samirs tabla. Bandís playing.
Music flows. Sounds charming indeed. I notice a
lot of snakes in the audience slowly rise and
slither towards the canteen hip flasks in hand.
Crowdís getting restless, collective murmurs,
customary grunts and some oinks of disapproval
about the raags being given to us by
Satya...nass. Rang Bhavan is under threat of being converted into
a huge open air Just not Jazz by the bay! Mr.
Compere comes up and requests the crowds to stop
disturbing the performers. Iím tempted to yell
back, 'the performers are disturbing us'. The
trumpet player may be hot, but itís the
batatawadas (hot, spicy Indian snack) that are
smokiní right now. So I get up and head for the
snakes, I mean snacks, at the canteen located
next to the loo! And Iím not talking about the
loo as in the Louieís wife.
Okay Iím back. I
donít quit so easily. And guess what? Half the
band is joined by three other musicians to form
Myra Melfordís Same River Twice! Iím slowly
beginning to understand the mathematics of
music. Things are getting interesting at Jazz
Yatra. The river flows. This band is wild, making avant-garde efforts to push back the
boundaries of Jazz. Pianist Myraís brilliant and
definitely an inspiring band leader. Dave is
beginning to sound like he has earned his votes.
The Jap chap playing bass seems to be getting more out of his headless and fretless bass.
Day three opens with Harsha Makalande on solo
Hamburg Steinway piano, tuned by Mr. Mistry' as
Mr. Compere kept announcing a little more often
than the necessary sponsor plug. Anyway, Harsha
sounds like he is rehearsing for his next big
solo performance. He probably feels that way, too,
since thereís just a handful of Jazz enthusiasts
present in their respective seats at 7.00 PM
sharp. Then came the Vijay Iyer Quartet. Now
here is a brilliant group of musicians, each a
virtuoso in his own right, with strings of
academic achievements behind their music. I
could almost smell the textbooks from where it
all came. This is great Jazz. The musicians on
stage are incredibly tuned into each other. They
have obviously been playing together for a long
time or may be they can read each otherís minds
or perhaps they read each otherís textbooks. Then
again, it could just be the simple fact that
they wear each otherís T-Shirts. Great
performance. Good show. Brilliant musicianship.
But for some reason, the quartet doesnít really make me want to
stand on my chair and yell 'yebdiyow'. At one
point though, in the middle of the bass solo I
did feel like getting up and waltzing into
heaven seated just two rows ahead. Unfortunately,
the tune was in five and a half time. This would
certainly complicate things in the ballroom
department of dance.
Whatís next ? Oh yes. Itís
Malcolm McNeil from New Zealand and you better
believe this, he is being backed by Jamie and
the Jammers from day one. Now Mally looked a
little bewildered on stage. He was probably
wondering what the heck is he doing on stage at
an international Jazz festival when he should
have been safely tucked into a cosy nightclub at
some swanky five star hotel in New Zealand. He
did put up a spirited performance however, and
considering he found out who his back up band
was only the night before show time, he did
exceptionally well. In fact, I even overheard a
couple of women expressing their intense desire
to hug him as he sang, 'have I told you lately'.
Time for the grand finale featuring petite
Louisa Cottifogli, backed by the Louis Banks Trio
and act two featuring the big surprise, world
renowned clarinet player Eddie Daniels and wife
Mirabai, who seems to be on her way to nirvana
via the Indian Yatra. Youíve guessed right, the
coupleís going to be backed by the Louis Banks
Trio. I guess India has yet to produce another
rhythm section as awesome as Louis Banks, Karl
Peters and Ranjit Barot. Little Louisa kicks off
the grand finale with 'Vande Mataram'. Great.
This little Italian has really got us Indians by
the balls. Then she proceeds to twist them
around, miming vocalists from different parts of
the world. I almost forgot what an Italian
singer sounds like. Now comes the sucker punch:
she goes and does a Dave Douglas on us (she
starts miming a trumpet). And finally, virtuoso
clarinet player Eddie Daniels takes the stage
with the tireless trio. Scorching solos.
Dazzling display of musicianship and
improvisational skills. Wifey joins the party and promptly starts cookiní.
Reminds me of our own version of an American
Jazz singer, the ageless Pam Crain. A few
exciting tunes down the show, differences seemed
to creep in onstage, differences probably
musical, financial, political or some other ill
seemed to crop up in broad spotlight.
Differences at Jazz by the bay is war.
Differences at an international platform like
the Jazz Yatra is world war. And so finally, the
curtains came down on the world war, sorry, Jazz
Yatra. The bottom line is, the boys at Jazz
India did make it happen against all odds. Even
if the batatawadas and babes were far more
happening than the bands.
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