HALF A JAZZ FEST IS BETTER THAN NONE
The Jazz Yatra tradition of the Nineties is being revived in a small scale in the city
The Paris Saxophone Quartet: they managed melody and harmony well
SINCE THE early '90s, when the Jazz Yatra was last held here, Bangalore has not had a jazz festival. Radio Indigo has now taken the initiative to revive the tradition on a small scale. The opening concert of its Jazz Utsav took place on the lawns of the Royal Orchid Park Plaza on November 10.
Two bands played at the opening concert, starting with Le Quatuor de Saxophone a.k.a. the Paris Saxophone Quartet (PSQ), comprising Daniel Liger on soprano, Francis Caumont on alto, Alain Jousset on tenor, and Philippe Duchesne on baritone saxes.
They performed some 15 pieces, starting off with a few drawn from folk traditions such as Spanish and a few more from ragtime, one of the sources of jazz. The second half of their set consisted of jazz standards, including such well-known numbers as "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", and "A Night in Tunisia".
All-sax jazz groups are not new. One can recall a couple of interesting ones that Bangalore has had the good luck to hear. Judging by their or any other jazz benchmarks, it would be hard to say that PSQ came up to expectations.
The trick in an all-saxophone band playing jazz is for the four or five constituent instruments to play the melody and harmony, maintain rhythm in the absence of any percussion instruments, and offer improvised solos. PSQ did manage melody and harmony well, and the baritone sax, playing notes as beats, largely looked after rhythm, but was mostly confined to this role.
More serious was the scarcity of solo improvisation, the essence of jazz. Except for Caumont (alto sax) playing one fairly satisfying solo on "A Night in Tunisia" and another on "Blue Monk", we heard just a couple of passages in the ragtime numbers when all four musicians appeared to be improvising, separately and simultaneously in the tradition of early jazz.
The literature on Oikyotaan, a six-member band from Chennai led by Bonnie Chakraborty and comprising the famous baul singer Kartick Das Baul, led one to expect that they would be firmly rooted in folk music, especially but not exclusively from Bengal, but also interact with modern Western musical forms such as rock and jazz.
The expectation was belied, although the music was powerful and full of feeling.
Chakraborty was the star of the show, his singing outshining even Kartick Das's (who anyway laid off for much of the performance).
The music was basically Bengali folk except for one Rajasthani number and one Senegalese. Paul Jacob on electric bass and Donan Murray on guitar took a back seat, while R. Vikram on taavil and K.V. Balakrishnan on various percussion instruments were more prominent and helped somewhat to broaden the base of the music beyond Bengali folk.
Certainly there was little fusion with Western musical forms, especially jazz, which one could have hoped for in a jazz festival.
To that extent Oikyotaan's otherwise enjoyable performance was something of a let-down.
(The final edition of Jazz Utsav, featuring Amit Heri and Mukta, an international jazz fusion band, is scheduled for November 18, at 8.30 p.m., at The Dublin Poolside, ITC Windsor Sheraton.)
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