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Event Review: Jazz Yatra
India's International Jazz Festival
By Colin D'Cruz
(more articles from this author)
2004-06-11
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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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