The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Super sound of string & sax

One has strummed his strings alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia, Pat Metheny and Al Di Meola. The other has collaborated with titans of jazz and blues like Etta James, Anthony Braxton and Albert Collins on the one side and Indian classical gurus like Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain, Sultan Khan and Ashish Khan on the parallel track.

Even as their music has taken them in different directions, guitar legend Larry Coryell and saxophone virtuoso George Brooks — in town as part of the Sangam quartet — have a common tune for Calcutta — to share their music. Coryell, who won Calcuttans’ hearts with his fretboard wizardry more than two decades ago with cult Indo-jazz fusion group Shakti, is keen to do guitar workshops for budding musicians here.

“I remember how informed the audience was back then and I would love to return here to teach the guitar to interested students in Calcutta and share my experience with them,” he said a few hours before taking the stage with Sangam for the Friday evening fusion gig. The guitar-slinging maestro from Texas recalled “the tremendous respect for the artiste this city has” and the “general love for music of all forms and structures”.

Brooks, whose collaboration with Zakir Hussain resulted in Night Spinner, one of the finest Indo-jazz fusion albums ever, and who played alongside Louis Banks at the Jazz Yatra in Mumbai last year, is also aware of the “artistic bent of mind” Bengalis have. “Working with masters like Zakirbhai and Ashish Khan has been a wonderful learning experience for me and I would be delighted to compose and arrange something on a theatre-dance-jazz format and embellish it with kathak and maybe songs and poems of Tagore,” he said.

Coryell, who now knows “more of the inner workings of Indian classical music than back in 1982”, is extremely happy with the direction Sangam (also featuring Ronu Mazumdar on flute and Vijay Ghate on tabla) has charted. “While the arrangement is specific and the gat or lead melody line structured, the form gives me ample freedom to rove and apply any harmonic colour I want to,” he explained.

While Coryell is happy to play more of “straight-ahead, four-beat” jazz guitar, Brooks is working towards creating a platform where both the Indian classical and the jazz schools have room to contribute. “Ronu and I firmly believe fusion music is more than mere jam sessions. The hearts must open up to each other to inspire the imagination and that is what we are endeavouring towards,” said the saxophonist. He felt Sangam “was just flowering” and the foursome was getting familiar with each other’s style and technique.

Coryell and Brooks, who did a string of gigs before with Hari Prasad Chaurasia in the US, UK and Dubai, concurred that Sangam featured “more jazz harmonies than Shakti”. A common favourite of the duo is McCoy, a tribute to jazz icon McCoy Tyner, “which we presented to Tyner himself backstage in Los Angeles this September,” Coryell recalled.

— Subhro Saha

History & mystery

Unsolved mysteries, technology and transportation, crimes, spy stories, espionage and wars. But above all, biographies of the faces of freedom and fear, peace and violence, from Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein. All that and more to make the past “come alive” is part of the History Channel package, launched on November 30 in India.

Uncontroversial, informative and safe family entertainment for all ages is the promise, something that the “parents and children will not be embarrassed to watch together”. The aim is to “make history fun to learn” for schoolchildren, and to the “discover the truths from the past” for all.

Part of the Star bouquet, the channel expects “20 per cent viewership from the eastern region”, says managing director Zubin Gandevia. Proof — “16 per cent of the viewership of National Geographic channel is from Calcutta”.

Biographies are the most popular category, “since people relate best to faces and personalities”. Number two on the list, the result of a national market research survey, is modern marvels, about how man-made structures were constructed, with history’s mysteries, on cases like the JFK assassination and UFO landings, coming in third.

The schedule will be in four-hour slots, with biographies and modern marvels broadcast daily, and weekly slots for programmes like crime time, from Hamlet to FBI files, and mission critical, on dangerous jobs like fighter pilots.

The local promotion will be in schools, through principals and history teachers, with presentations. About 30 hours of research go into each hour of programming. The brand aim is to create products that are fascinating — “not homeworkish” — credible, premium, educational and fun. The channel, available in 70 countries, in 20 languages, will also be broadcast in Hindi from 10 pm till midnight every day.

Classical interlude

Two interesting music events were played out in front of full houses within 48 hours. On Saturday, it was a classical-concert by the Linos-Ensemble from Germany at GD Birla Sabhagar. On Monday, a couple from Luxembourg, David Ianni and Mariette Lentz, showed off their talent on the piano and with vocals respectively at the Calcutta School of Music. Both events were part of the EU Cultural Week.

Away from policy discussions, the Linos-Ensemble attempted to provide an insight into four European composers: Jean Françaix, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert and Detlev Mueller-Siemens. The 11-member ensemble included five winds, five strings and one pianist. The pick of their play — a modern variation of one of Schubert’s most famous pieces, Forellenquintett, with a wonderfully emotional interpretation by Konstanze Eickhorst on the piano.

The duo from Luxembourg, Mariette Lentz with her shrill soprano and David Ianni accompanying her mostly on a brown Boesendorfer grand-piano, were also well received with their emotion and quiet sense of spirit. Ianni’s interpretation of famous German poems and Indian prayers generated interest. But the high point of the evening was a solo by Lentz, Sequenza III, a kind of voice-theatre which grows out of crying, laughing, singing, shouting and whispering, composed by the Italian Luciano Berio.

Anja Damm

Desert designs

Calcutta’s catwalk will get a taste of exotic designs from an obscure town in western Rajasthan in the New Year. Designs of Barmer, the small town specialising in rugged ethnic designs on original vegetable dye-printed cotton, will be seen in the city in another couple of months, promises Tanzeena Ghosh Mukherjee of Earthworx, in Swabhumi. “Clients here have already shown a great deal of interest,” she adds. “The Azarakh printing form, which originated in Sindh, is extremely rare,” says Ruby Pal Chowdhury, chairperson of the Crafts Council of West Bengal. It is a painstaking and minute process in nine stages. Men are usually engaged in block printing, which takes around three weeks, while women execute the delicate embroidery. Promoting Rogan art, a fast-fading form from Persia, is also on the organisation’s agenda.

Lata on veena

In what could be termed as the South’s response to popular Hindi scores, MusicWorld has launched A Voyage of Inspiration, an album featuring veena renditions of Hindi film hits by maestro E. Gaayathri, popularly known as Veena Gaayathri. At a time when this Indian classical instrument, one of the toughest to master, has receded to only pockets of existence in South India through general neglect, this set of 15 evergreen Bollywood tracks by Lata Mangeshkar, played on the instrument, comes as a significant offering in the recording industry.

The artiste, who had started playing the veena when she was just 18 months old and gave her first public performance at seven, says: “The veena is the only instrument that comes closest to the human voice. It is capable of conveying every emotion rendered by the human voice. It is the only complete instrument and one that requires rational, analytical, thinking capabilities and yet a gentle, feminine touch for the music to come alive. The songs in the album have been chosen after careful deliberation so that the rendition does justice to Lataji’s voice.”

MusicWorld general manager S.K. Chowdhury says: “This is a very difficult instrument, and to emote a human voice on it, only the top end of the strings are used, which needs great control. We are trying to get the artiste down to Calcutta to perform in our Park Street store.”

A Voyage of Inspiration, priced at Rs 150 for a CD and Rs 45 for an audiocassette, is available from the 14 MusicWorld showrooms across the country and the 158 Express and Unplugged counters.

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