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Jazz Yatra

Jazz is arguably the most controversial form of music (it even has diminished and argued chords). So at the outset let me present my reasoning. Jazz is musical improvisation, right? Indian classical music is improvisation, right? True, Indian music does not have Western harmonies. But the key word here is improvisation and not harmony, right? Indian classical music has been around for over two thousand years. Americans discovered jazz less than a hundred years ago. Just then, now that we have made India the birthplace of Jazz, head to the Indian Jazz Yatra.

On the first day, the cats (kangaroos?) emerge from below. Jamie Oehlers Quintet and the Perth Jazz Orchestra. Jamie opens it. Good band. Big Jazz. Jamie and the boys are fine. About the second act, which is… ahem, an extended remix of the first act. Jamie and the boys brought their mates to form the Perth Jazz Orchestra! It’s always exciting to hear the powerful and dynamic sound of a big band. It reminds me of what teamwork is all about. Each member seemed very happy to be a small part of the big picture. Fronting the big band was singer Mark Underwood, whose rich and velvety voice reached and caressed the audience. A very enjoyable evening. A good start for the Jazz Yatra. We met a lot of old and new friends who share a common love of live music. The first day was the Aussie night. Too bad we didn’t get to hear their didgeridoo or didgerididn or similar instruments.

The second day is the trump card of the Jazz Yatra. Voted the best trumpeter in the world by readers of Downbeat magazine and Archie comics, Dave Douglas from the United States. Led by Satya Dave, he settles on the stage, I mean sits on the stage. Just then, the sky passes me in its tiniest black number. She tosses her locks and glances at me. The music starts. The band hasn’t started yet. Chaos. The band starts. Screw me back to earth. Satya is sitting in a nice semi circle. Myra cross-legged on harmonium. Dave looked crossly at Trumpet. Samir and Sanghamitra cross on the tabla and the tanpura. Dave looks like a snake charmer trying to charm a snake right off Samirs tabla. A band is playing. The music flows. It sounds really charming. I notice that many snakes in the audience are slowly rising up and slithering towards the hip flask of the canteen they are holding in their hands. The crowd is getting restless, collective murmurs, usual grunts and some sense of disapproval about the raags Satya…nass has given us. Rang Bhavan is in danger of being transformed into a huge, open-air space, but not Jazz by the Bay! Mr. Compere comes up and asks the crowd to stop interrupting the performers. I’m tempted to yell back, “The presenters are bothering us.” The trumpet player may be hot, but it’s the batatawadas (hot, spicy Indian snacks) that are smoking hot. I get up and head for the snakes, I mean snacks, in the canteen next to the washroom! And I’m not talking about the bathroom like in Louies wife. Okay, I’m back. I don’t give up that easily. And guess what? Half of the band are joined by three other musicians to form Myra Melfords “Same River Twice”! I am slowly beginning to understand the mathematics of music. Things are getting interesting at Jazz Yatra. The river flows. This band is wild. Avant-garde efforts to push the boundaries of jazz. Pianist Myra is a brilliant and definitely inspiring bandleader. Dave is starting to sound like he got his votes. The Japanese bass guy seems to be able to get more out of the headless and noiseless bass.

The third day will be taken up by Harsha Makalande in the solo performance of “Hamburg Steinway Piano Mr. Mistry’s Tuning”. Anyway, Harsha sounds like he’s rehearsing for his next big solo gig. He probably feels the same way, as only a few Jazz fans are in their seats at 7:00 p.m. Then came the Vijay Iyer Quartet. Now here is a brilliant group of musicians, all virtuosos in their own right, with many scientific accomplishments behind their music. I could almost smell the textbooks where it all came from. This is great Jazz. The musicians on stage are incredibly in tune with each other. They’ve obviously been playing together for a long time, or they can read each other’s minds, or read each other’s textbooks. But maybe it’s just the simple fact that they wear each other’s shirts. Great performance. Good show. Brilliant musicianship. But for some reason, the quartet doesn’t really make me want to stand on my chair and shout “yebdiyow”. However, at one point, in the middle of the bass solo, I felt like getting up and waltzing to heaven, sitting just two rows ahead. Unfortunately, the tune played in five and a half time. That would certainly make things difficult in the dance hall. What is the next step ? Oh yes. Malcolm Mc’Neil from New Zealand and you better believe he’s been supported by Jamie and the Jammers since day one. Now Mally looked a bit bewildered on stage. He was probably wondering what the hell he was doing on stage at an international jazz festival when he should have been tucked away safely in the cozy nightclub of a five-star hotel in New Zealand. Still, he gave a spirited performance, and considering he only found out who his backing band was the night before the show, he performed exceptionally well. In fact, I’ve even heard some women express their intense desire to hug him as he sings, “I told you so.”

It’s time for the grand finale, with petite Louisa Cottifogli supported by the Louis Banks Trio and the big surprise in the second act, the world-renowned clarinetist Eddie Daniels and his wife Mirabai, who seem to be on their way to nirvana via the Indian Yatra. He guessed right, the Louis Banks trio will be behind the couples. I don’t think India has yet produced another fantastic rhythm section like Louis Banks, Karl Peters and Ranjit Barot. Little Louisa starts the grand finale with ‘Vande Mataram’. Large. This little Italian really caught us Indians. He then wraps them around copycat singers from around the world. I almost forgot what an Italian singer is like. Now comes the blow, he goes and does a Dave Douglas on us (starts trumpet). And finally, virtuoso clarinetist Eddie Daniels takes the stage with the tireless trio. Scorching solos. A dazzling display of musicianship and improvisational skills. Wife joins the party. And immediately starts cooking. She reminds me of her own version of an American jazz singer, the ageless Pam Crain. With some exciting tunes during the show, the differences seemed to creep onto the stage. Differences probably came to the fore due to musical, financial, political or other issues. Jazz by the Bay is a war of differences. Differences on an international platform like Jazz Yatra, World War. And so the curtain finally came down on the World War, sorry Jazz Yatra. The bottom line is that the Jazz India boys did it against all odds. Even if the batatawadas and chicks happened way more than the gangs.

Colin D’Cruz

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