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Saturday night sounds

On the vast canvas of music as it is today, there seems to be less and less space for a credo where a song is just a song, with a simple melody that touches your heart, set to a simple rhythm that makes you want to tap your feet or sway and communicates an emotion that you can relate to readily, leaving you with a warm glow or unbridled elation or a bitter-sweet lump in the throat.

The emphasis seems to be more on moving away from innocence towards deep, sometimes agonised soul searching. Long “outside” or “alternative” compositions, full of angst; avant garde fury and ballistic free-for-alls during which the audience can begin to feel a bit bewildered about where the music is actually going, scant heed being paid to structure and movement. Perhaps merely a more honest reflection of the times in which we live.

When the Calcutta School of Music, as a part of their Monsoon Concert Series, presented, along with Congo Square, An Evening of Easy Listening, it was clearly an attempt to regale the audience with music that took us to that space on the canvas where a song is just a song.

The first half-hour or so featured Sashi Puri on piano in a cameo of light classical pieces that set the tone for the evening. She is returning to the stage as a solo player after a long time, which is good news. Not being qualified to review a classical concert, I was there to review the second part, but she had set up the mood, and the audience was ready to move from unplugged to plugged, featuring Debabrata (Bapai) Mitra on electric piano, Mainak Nag Chaudhuri on electric bass, Debapratim Bakshi on congos and bongos and Debashish Banerjee on drums.

They started with Poinciana, a traditional jazz standard that they played in a Latin (samba) rhythm, after an ad-lib piano introduction. The piece has a haunting melody, but after a while the music seemed to lose its way, with elements of funk inappropriately coming in, and too much going on at the same time, solos — the bass solo — even having a hint of an Indian touch to it. The piece meandered more than was necessary and pulled in too many directions at once, before ending with the melody restated.

Debashish (Debu) Banerjee is a drummer with superlative technique and can dazzle an audience with his sheer dexterity, kit control and dynamics, which he indeed did do on Saturday evening, especially during his solos.

But bossa nova, samba, cha cha, rhumba, mambo and other Latin rhythms are extremely clearly defined and have specific identities of their own, with exact spaces and exact moments for every accent and punctuation, and whatever freedom a musician has has to be built around these signposts.

Personally, I felt that sometimes Debu overplayed, lost the identity of the rhythm and several passages ended up sounding like a jazz-funk or a funk-rock jam and suddenly you thought you were in the middle of Weather Report or Spyrogyra, which was not the intention, because it was supposed to be a piano concert, backed by three other instruments.

However, there were several fine moments and passages as well, my favourites being Cantabile written by Michel Petrucianni and Tenderly by Walter Gross, both extremely lyrical and moving melodies that win you over the very first time. In these two pieces, the piano was highlighted and not left behind. The Rogers and Hammerstein classic My Favourite Things, which John Coltrane did in a jazz-waltz time with drummer Elvin Jones showing what restraint is all about, was also well received, with bass and drums sharing some good moments. This was also done with a Latin feel. The last piece was the old classic, Tequila, which had the audience asking for more, and the band obliged with Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man.

This is Bapai’s first concert at the helm, so to speak. He has a melodic style, and it is good that he has come up front, and should do so more often. Mainak Nag Chaudhuri and Debapratim Bakshi are very fine, able players and we will be hearing much more of them, one hopes.

From easy listening at CSM to the foot-stomping uproar of Someplace Else, where Soulmate, a band from Shillong, took the stage after 10 o’clock the same night. Soulmate is Rudy Wallang on guitar and vocals, Tipriti “Tips” Kharbangar on rhythm guitar and vocals (she sings most of the songs), Ferdy Dkhar on bass and Sam Shullai on drums.

I think they must be the finest and most authentic blues band in the country. Tips can really wail the blues and when you hear her you know what singing from the gut is all about. They have studied the blues masters well, their pedigree is unquestionable and they have a grasp of the various styles, tempos, structures and arrangements that exist in blues music. Bass and drums provide the tightest of grooves, a rock solid platform.

Half their set consisted of originals written by Rudy and you wouldn’t know that they were originals because they were so authentic. They also did renditions of the works of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Mahalia Jackson, Coco Taylor and Muddy Waters, among others. Rudy has developed a distinct “voice” as a blues guitarist and Tips is laying it down strong with her rhythm guitar. A force to reckon with, I hope they come back more often.

They rocked us well into the night, and then the celebrations of SPE’s birthday went on well into the morning, the tone of excess being set and spilling over into Sunday quite seamlessly.

A perfect recipe for Monday morning blues.

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