The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Melody magic in jazz jamming

The tsunami tragedy of December 2004 led to the cancellation of many events, particularly those related to entertainment and one of these was the jazz fest slated for January 2005. This wintertime ritual, which started in the 70s and survived into the early 80s and was revived a few years ago by the organisation called Congo Square, saw its 2006 edition take place last weekend.

The event is gaining momentum; there was a healthy turn out at DI right from the beginning, which saw an 80-minute set by HFT, a Delhi-based band featuring Arjun (Aja) Sen on guitar, Adhiraj Mustafi on drums and Lew Hilt on bass. He has shifted base to Delhi, is one of the highly regarded musicians in the country and Calcutta's loss has been Delhi's gain.

This was HFT's second visit to the city. There is perhaps no other band in the country with their improvisational and spatial approach, drawing from many genres music to close your eyes to, evoking different images in the mind and transporting you to different times and spaces. They opened their set with a piece called Oblique with an Indian feel to it. The balance between Aja's statements and Lew's was evident here, with the improvisation having shades of Grateful Dead, and drummer Adhiraj flowing in a loose and free way. In HFT there is a respect for each other's space and expression.

There was a warm response to this opening track and they were getting into the groove with the next piece Rest My Case, which has a catchy, impish hook to the opening and closing melody, when unfortunately a technical snag with the generator forced them to stop in mid-sentence.

They struggled to get back into rhythm for a while after that and one has witnessed HFT playing with stronger communication; especially from Aja, but that did not prevent the audience from experiencing their wide range ' from atonal, avant garde moments to rhythmic and melodic grooves and some lyrical, beautiful solos from Lew.

Mustafi is the third drummer to play with HFT and joined them only about six months ago and although his feel for some of their grooves could get strong and the movements through his solos could be a bit more seamless, he is potentially just what the doctor ordered for this band.

They closed their set with Idlis On A Camel, built around a typical Lew Hilt bass line and shifting between 7/8 and 8/8 time and also showcasing Aja's unconventional style ' laid back mostly and then sometimes coming out strongly to make a highly individual statement.

Next up was Mandu Sarara from Brazil. The name is an expression used by some Brazilian Indian tribes for a blonde Portuguese man and this band ' Beto Spordeler (saxophones and flute), Lucas Vargas (piano, rhodes, accordion and melodeon), Rui Barossi (bass), Mario Giaotte (drums and percussion) and Rodrigo Braganca (guitar) ' has created a unique identity by using almost forgotten Brazilian rhythms such as frevo, loaiao and maracaru as well as the more familiar samba and bossa nova and drawing melodic inspiration from local folk traditions and European styles composers such as Milton Nascimento.

Day Two ' Sunday January 22 ' also kicked off with a trio called Three Raags. German violinist Holger Jetter, African French bass player Mishko M'Ba and Indian-born French drummer Suresh Bascara came together in Pondicherry and this band was formed. Another fine band with a distinct personality of its own, they started their set with Strange Fruits where the violin had a Western classical voice to it and it was also established that the bass would feature as a lead, up-front instrument.

We got to hear the famous Herbie Hancock tune Dolphin Dance, poignantly rendered. Lucky Seven had a strong Afro-Cuban feel, as did Gary's Waltz.

A free, improvisational piece called Haikn had a meditative, zen character and there were also traditional jazz arrangements with solos on the chord structure of the song, trading of fours and ending with a repeat of the thematic melody.

We also got to hear the first straight-ahead swing pieces in two days. Three Raags was joined for a few pieces by Apurba Mukherji on tabla, which included an indigenous rendition of Take Five, the melody quite Indianised. They also did a brilliant version of Chick Corea's Spain and as a whole were well received.

A fitting finale to two days of rich music was the Eric Lohrer Quartet from France ' Lohrer on guitar, Jean-Charles Richard (soprano sax), Eric Surmenian (double bass) and Patrick Goraguer on drums. Their music was traditional European jazz based on classical forms and it was mature and well seasoned.

Guitar and soprano sax make a winning combination and we were treated to some high quality, virtuoso musicianship by this band, with rhythmic diversity as well ' opening with Foxtrot with an Afro-Cuban feel, going into Dolce Vita in slow swing, Danish Blue in a robust 6/8, Moons, a reflective virtuoso piece highlighting the double bass and drums played with brushes and Borne Fortune with a distinctive rock feel.

My personal pick of the four bands for their skill, depth and authenticity, they closed the two days on a high note.

A third day ' on Friday 27, will feature BET Jazz from the US, including musicians Kenny Garrett, Nicholas Payton, Lisa Henry and members of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. Same time. Same place.

Email This Page