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Amyt Datta Power Quartet finds the sweet spot and how

The guitar guru reworks some of his old tunes and unveils a new one with a modern-day jazz-rock flourish

Shantanu Datta | Published 30.11.22, 04:59 PM
Amyt Datta in performance at the Brass Room, ITC Royal Bengal

Amyt Datta in performance at the Brass Room, ITC Royal Bengal

Photos: Proshanto Mahato

From the “tick-tock” of the sticks, a kind of starter’s gun that the drummer fires softly and locks the time signature of the forthcoming tune in a live gig, to the point the song actually begins, is a nanosecond of anticipation. What follows is the laying out of brass tacks: an introduction to the tune, unveiling of a scenery perhaps, the tone of the guitar to articulate emotion, the bass chiming in for rhythm, the keyboard spreading some background charm and the drums, by this time, in your face, keeping time of the proceedings.

All this usually happens fast, seamlessly. But with the Amyt Datta Electric Power Quartet, in a full-blown concert at the ITC Royal Bengal last week, the musical explosion is not just fast. It is lightning fast. At times defying laws of physics, the thunder preceding the lightning — tune after tune.

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The quartet: Samrat Mukherjee (keys), Akash Ganguly (bass), Sambit Chatterjee (drums) and Amyt Datta (guitar)

The quartet: Samrat Mukherjee (keys), Akash Ganguly (bass), Sambit Chatterjee (drums) and Amyt Datta (guitar)

Of the 11 tracks featured that evening, all save one are from Datta’s albums Ambiance de Danse, Amino Acid, Pietra Dura, and the most recent Red Plant; and these had been rearranged to fit the contours of this lively foursome. Akash Ganguly, among the most sought-after musicians of Calcutta, was on bass, framing the extremities of the complex compositions, and adding fluidity to the occasional staccato texture of Datta’s guitar. Samrat Mukherjee’s keys provided not just the cushion for Datta to weave his magic on, but also a harmonic counterpoint to each and every tune, be it the frenetic Pulse or the melancholy Remembrance. Sambit ‘Gogol’ Chatterjee, the youngest member of the band wielding those tick-tock sticks, added drum muscle. Playing with an unconventional set-up — a second snare in place of the second tom-tom — he spends his time creating and maintaining the beat structure for the others to play on. And as Datta holds forth on his solos, delightfully syncopated as these are, Sambit is able to find micro-rhythms within the broader outlines of the primary beat. Making good use of a pulse-pounding bass drum, Sambit’s playing is fluid, which is why he is able to maintain the heart-stopping intensity with aplomb — although at times I did feel that a bit too much was going on.

Sambit Chatterjee (drums)

Sambit Chatterjee (drums)

Not that it took away from the overall experience of the expressive nature of the complex music. Amazingly, Datta’s guitar stayed “inside” the band, even though his was the dominant force responsible for the quartet’s nomenclature. It speaks for the overall cohesion of the band that the guitar, in the myriad tones Datta is able to generate from his instrument (a vintage Fender Stratocaster), was never allowed to fly off the arrangements.

Dissonance has always been intrinsic to Datta’s music which he once described to me as having a “Mediterranean feel”. Here, the tracks acquired added dimensions, authoritative in their delivery, forthright in intent with no pussyfooting.

The setlist of the concert

The setlist of the concert

The Amyt Datta Quartet, only two gigs old, is comfortably perched on jazz-rock. But the music takes on a 2022, modern-day avatar even though the influences are age-old — Datta draws from his own aesthetics of experience and philosophy, yet makes sure no one style comes to the fore. So, if the notes felt Indian at times, it was no accident. As for his playing, Datta bared his heart. He’s reaching for the skies as always. But this time, he is not holding back.

The only previously unreleased track of the evening’s concert at the Brass Room was Dark City. The band saved this energetic, no-holds barred statement (about Calcutta?) for the last. It’s a foot-tapping raucous and deceptively angry tune that prompted the appreciative audience to request an encore. One hopes it is being thought of as the opening track of the power quartet’s eagerly awaited forthcoming album.

Last updated on 30.11.22, 07:31 PM
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