| Louiz Banks with The Jazz Messengers at Roxy on Saturday evening. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Jazz has to be the most generous, all encompassing and flexible of modern musical genres. It ingests elements of all styles and cultures, incorporates the use of all manner of instruments. Sometimes a more apt description might be fusion, but mostly, though you may hear tablas, conch-shells, violins and cellos, and see in your mind’s eye the pictures of all the continents, when the music is in experienced hands and the myriad ingredients have found their balance, the best word is still jazz. The chord progressions, the orchestration of the melodies of each piece, the syncopation and the tonal qualities and textures leave their unmistakable stamp.
Saturday night’s concert at Roxy by Louiz Banks and The Jazz Messengers was a case in point. The curtain-raiser, set for Someplace Else on Friday, was washed out, and so Roxy witnessed its first live music event and the city its first concert by The Jazz Messengers. Louiz Banks — the man himself — on keyboards, Jesse Sheehan on tenor saxophone (he also played tabla on the opening track Shanti), Sheldon D’Souza on six-string electric bass and son Gino Banks on drums.
Louiz and Sheehan are the senior musicians providing a rich fund of experience to the music and Gino and Sheldon — rightly described by Louiz in an interview as “monsters at 22” — inject an amazing energy and drive. It is a very refreshing brand of music that they have — with honest rock being the main ingredient embraced by the jazz compositions.
What epitomised the sound and personality of this band — for me — were two pieces about midway through the concert called Pow Wow and Way Out East, and the last piece of the evening, a Banks composition called High Wire.
Pow Wow had a crisp, tight bass and drums rockish groove over which the saxophone and keyboards played with melody and space. It also featured a bass solo where Sheldon used a pitch shifter effect that created the impression of notes on other octaves coming through. Sheldon is a big young man with enormous hands, and the six-string bass is just the instrument for him, and his technical prowess is amazing.
Way Out East showcased the band most completely. Starting with a fast, driving bass line and moving into the theme which involved intricate phrasing all in unison and then into some well-coordinated movements with the musicians well aware of each other. Then a sax solo over the tight bass and drums groove with full and lush keyboard chords in support, all moving together to the climaxes. Then a short space of intentional, organised anarchy just a touch reminiscent of avant garde, going into a keyboard solo in swing and then back to the original groove for an astonishing, percussive bass solo with Sheldon stepping out up front. An incredible drum solo as well; Gino is a young man of gigantic talent whose ideas are mature and appropriate, never drawing attention to himself needlessly yet able to leave you breathless when showcased.
High Wire, a piece with a strong rock feel, also had precision unison work for the theme, and had some trading between bass and drums and a keyboard solo with an almost wah-wah like tone. The band also did some favourites like Take Five, My Favourite Things and Autumn Leaves, and brought their cutting-edge signature to all the pieces. If the message is that jazz is now, it is kicking, it is entertaining and not obscure, that it communicates and exhilarates then The Jazz Messengers, with their blend of youth and experience, have got it loud and clear.
Across the lobby, at Someplace Else, was Sonia Sehgal with her band Interplay, featuring Harmeet Manseta on keyboards, Adrian D’Souza on drums and Rushad Mistry on bass. We still haven’t developed the technology that allows a person to be in two places at the same time so one did not manage more than a few minutes at SPE but it was enough to understand that here was another face of jazz — slightly more traditional, more bluesy, polished, elegant; the things you need to back a vocalist who is in a class of her own. Sonia is effortless — whether letting it go from her gut or being velvet smooth and reflective singing a ballad — it all flows out naturally.
The one piece I managed to catch in its entirety was Little Girl, a bluesy ballad she wrote herself, and it gave me goosebumps. Sonia loves the stage. She drinks in the energy of the audience and enjoys every moment, and is already a favourite of the SPE crowd.
It was crammed to the rafters, not surprisingly, and Roxy’s debut as a live venue worked unexpectedly well. It was billed as a jazz and wine evening, part of the Roxy Wine Club’s calendar of events and with Louiz Banks and Sonia, who both basically hail from Calcutta, doing the honours, it was uncannily like being on Park Street in the early 1970s.