The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cerebral sounds of jazz

In 1980, during the first clutch of jazz fests held in Calcutta (they took place between 1975 and 1982), one of the most exciting and experimental bands visited the city. They were called Globe Unity Orchestra and among them was Europe’s leading trombone player, Albert Manglesdorff. At one point he took centre stage to play a solo piece entitled An Ant Stepped On An Elephant’s Foot.

How he coaxed every nuance of humour, annoyance, rage, placation and détente out of that single trombone was magical and unforgettable. We could palpably feel the dialogue going on and not only was it an exceptional feat of musicianship, it also epitomised, for me at least, the freedom of expression that must be one of the most important hallmarks of jazz, that has over the decades encompassed virtually every style and embraced virtually every culture.

This was in evidence at the just-concluded 2007 edition of Jazzfest held between January 19 and 22 at the Dalhousie Institute, and organised by Congo Square. If one were to consider the concert by legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter along with vocalist Lisa Henry and students of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz as a curtain raiser (January 14), then this year’s event was in fact a five-day affair.

The place was packed to the rafters with every square inch of standing room taken up as well, and the energy level of the audience itself had the place abuzz, with a large number of young and eager faces to be seen. And although unexpectedly the concert started with “an alternative version” of Hancock’s Dolphin Dance and set the tone for a concert where most of the music would be cerebral, and verging on the avant garde except when Lisa Henry got into foot-stomping mode, the concert was quite well received with the encore being a more straight ahead rendition of Watermelon Man. Personally, I felt that it could have cooked a lot more.

Friday the 19th saw the Erik Truffaz Quartet from France. A smaller audience, though no less enthusiastic, witnessed a compact, cohesive concert by a band that moved spontaneously and fluidly with each other as Truffaz’s trumpet, beautifully controlled, led the way through different moods and avenues. Drummer Marc Arbetta’s playing was mature and creative, his rapport with Truffaz clearly evident. Christophe Chambetoa on bass provided appropriate support while Malcolm Braffon’s piano was a good foil for Truffaz, with several telling, well-felt solos.

I did not manage to catch every act on every day, but the audience was regaled by some rich variety in the form of the quite unusual band form Canada — Autorickshaw — with Suba Sankaram (vocals), Patrick Graham (percussion), Dylan Bell (bass) and Ed Hanley on tabla.

Their repertoire of contemporary arrangements of South Indian classical pieces, Indo-jazz originals and unconvetional renditions of jazz standards such as Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat and Caravan put their own signature on the evening.

Followed by the Cornelio Tutu Band from Hungary, fronted by guitarist Cornelio Tutu, winning acclaim in recent years from audiences in Europe and Japan for his tasteful and melodic approach, and supported by Zoltan Olah (keyboards), Peter Olah (bass) and Ference Csomos on drums.

Then to the completely different Judy Lewis and Orr Didi Project form Israel. Once a classical concert pianist before she turned to jazz and having a passion for progressive rock, Judy Lewis is influenced by Dream Theatre and Peter Erskine and has developed a very individual style which one critic called a “rare phenomenon” and added that Judy was “no clone of anybody else”.

The closing band on Sunday the 21st was Three Raags who played here last year but this year also had Steve Rudolph from the US, joining them on piano, a musician with some pretty serious credentials. Three Raags, based in Pondicherry, are Mishko M’ba from France on bass, Holger Jetter from Germany on violin and Suresh Bascara, Indian by descent, on drums. They have a bright, extrovert and infectious brand of music merging western and Indian diversions with much free improvisation, which goes down well live.

The finale on Monday the 22nd was the Scott Kinsey Group from USA. Driving, high-energy, cutting edge music at the hands of truly gifted musicians, fronted by multi-keyboardist Scott Kinsey along with Matthew Garrison (bass), Seamus Blake (tenor sax) and Kirk Covington, “the Wild Man from Texas” on drums. His power-packed playing and Garrison’s tight, highly creative yet very much “in-the-groove” bass providing the platform for some amazing directions and soundscaping by Blake and Kinsey, laptops and all.

The DI is a great live concert venue — open air yet compact and intimate. And a tribute to Calcuttan audiences as well. Always ready to listen and show appreciation, never blasé and cynical.

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