Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Trio Davies

Filipe Freitas - Oboe
Susana Valente - Clarinet
Ricardo Santos - Bassoon

Now, I won't pretend to know anything about Western Classical music but I can sure appreciate good sounds in any form. The Trio Davies from Portugal was precise, lilting, subtle and pleasing to the ears. The three sounds of the wind swirled together and made me feel like I had enjoyed an evening of good wine and better company. Altogether a warm experience.

The playlist:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Divertimento 1

Rondo - Allegro

Jacques Ibert - Cinco Pecas
Allegro vivo

Allegro assai
Allegro quasi marziale

Ludwig Van Beethoven
Trio, Op.87

Final: Presto

Gordon Jacob -
Allegro molto
Allegro vivace

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Truffaz Quartet Live @Alliance Francaise de Bangalore

Erik Truffaz isn't one for stereotypes. He has wielded his trumpet with everyone from electro-tabla wizard Talvin Singh to saxophone great Micheal Brecker with the Arabian influenced Hip Hop and dub sounds of Mounir Troudi finding a place somewhere in the melange.

That he worships at the altar of Miles Davis is worn proudly in every accent, every modal change, every wisp of breath from his lips. I don't mean he's a Miles clone. Far from it. Truffaz has devoured, imbibed and internalised the trumpet pioneer to such an extent that it has merged with his own style, giving it body, shape and even direction but never taking over. From desperate bop runs to the slightest whistle, Truffaz illustrated time and again that he is undoubtedly one of the modern European trumpet masters. In this performance he was joined by the rhythm section of Malcolm Braff on piano, Christophe Chambet on bass and Marc Erbetta on drums. In the newly renovated Alliance Francaise auditorium they ensured that mere jaw drops were too minor a reaction.

The hirsute Malcolm Braff would have probably looked more at home in a rock or blues band (read Canned Heat) but that didn't take anything away from his playing. Blending his considerable licks on the piano and kurzweil keyboard with a true improvisers spirit this big man could do no wrong. When he wasn't eliciting elongated clapping sessions from the audience with super fast finger work he played an understated role, adding just the right chords or scale runs, sometimes reminiscent of Thelonius Monk, another big hirsute piano player of old.

Christophe Chambet is no smiling assassin. He is one of those musicians who coaxes his skills and instrument with the deepest of scowls, his eyes sinking deep into their sockets. He played all over and all around the groove, visiting it once in a way and never sounding out of synch.

There are some musicians that make you squirm because they are so stratospheric, so mercurial and so brilliant. Marc Erbetta was one of those musicians. I'm still reeling from what he did behind those skins and HUGE Zildjian cymbals. I'm still trying to comprehend it all. When Miles said that good drummers would light a fire under the other musicians asses and push their limits he was absolutely right. Marc Erbetta did just that and then some.

This explosive quartet was joined for a couple of songs by Geeta Navale on Veena and a mridangam player whose name I can't remember. Geeta was abysmal, very rarely making her presence felt amidst so much genius. The mridangam player only shined on a slightly messy jughalbandi with Erbetta. Strangely, Erbetta seemed more at ease with the complex Indian time signatures.

It was toppermost till the fusion angle kicked in. We have so many brilliant Indian musicians. Perhaps next time a better match would have resulted in a better light.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Cameleon Quartet

Just photos of a brilliant brilliant band playing through their amps and nothing else.No mics for the drummer either but what a performance by this French quartet. Magnifique!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Happy Birthday Bugger

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night -- O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear'd -- O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless -- O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

From Walt Whitman's When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom'd
I send you my love wherever you are, Tots.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Minimum Fare

I'm a bit wary of fusion bands that are formed by NRIs and foriegners attempting to play Indian instruments. It can come together wonderfully. There is also the chance that the whole thing that seems like such a novelty in their homeland can fall flat on its face in a more realistic environment.

Autorickshaw from Canada fell in the latter category. I have to be fair and say that they weren't with their regular lineup, percussionist Patrick Graham sitting in for Debasis Sinha and Rich Brown being replaced on bass. As expected the sound at the very well meaning but terribly executed Sunday Jam was horrendous making things even worse for the band. I checked out a couple of videos of these guys online and they were a great deal tighter than they were in Bangalore. I haven't seen or heard Patrick Graham in any other setting, solo or group but here he was quite insipid, hardly giving a robust percussive base to the rest of the musicians.

Ed Hanley on tabla illustrated why foriegners taking up Indian Classical music have to work twice as hard. I'm sure there are 100s of tabla players in Bangalore alone who could have usurped his place in the line up with much better results.

Suba Sankaran, who apparently plays the piano as well only sang at the Jam. Again she looked distinctly uncomfortable throughout the performance barely making the cut on the vocal improvisations on Spanish Caravan. The less said about her attempts at infusing some Carnatic elements into the mix, the better. I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt yet again, maybe she's better in more condusive sound settings.

Overall a very disappointing performance after braving a lineup of probably the worst bands in the world. I really would like to see Autorickshaw again with their original lineup and good sound to make final judgement but this particular show left me cold. A photo op and nothing more.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Their eyes were all faraway, moistened by the one love that they all share, the love for the divine. True to its beautiful meaning, this Ruhaniyat was without a doubt, 'that which satiates the soul'. On a chilly Bangalore evening I was lost among a few hundred people, lost in the words(which I wished and wished I understood better), lost in the notes and lost in the yearning that these folk musicians laid bare before us. Suddenly George Harrison's plaintive cry in My Sweet Lord seemed like a whimper (I still love the song though) in the face of the full blooded screams that emerged time and again from this stage. There was no caste here, religion was left in the lurch and mundane issues like power and money were scoffed at. All there was energy, in its purest form, emanating like a glow from some of the performers, enveloping you if you were sensitive enough. There were the page 3 folk down for a evening of the arts, eyes half closed, pretending to be lost in a trance but a closer look always revealed that their eyeballs kept moving straining to see who was watching them through the tiny gap in their eyelids.

Ruhaniyat made its first appearance in Bangalore this year, with an ecletic bunch. The show began as with Zikr-e-Rifayi by the Fakirs from Hyderabad, lending a truly mystical air amidst plumes of green lit smoke. Their frenetic beating of the duff in unison gave a solid rhythmic base to the powerful singing.

From the dunes of Rajasthan emerged the group of the evening led by a triumvirates of vocalists. The star, although he'd probably balk at the word was an animated gentleman called Kachra Khan. Apparently many of his older siblings had perished so his parents decided to name him something that wouldn't tempt the evil eye. His vocal chords were pretty much the opposite of his name, as he toyed with Rag Bhairavi among others, soaring, whispering and modulating dropping jaws and bringing palms together with every song. This was the only group that played twice, once in each half of the programme and deservedly so. Khan sahab was ably by a group of phenomenal musicians whose names I wish I remembered on a variety of instruments from the sarangi to an energetic guy on castanets. They sang in a mixture of Sindhi, Punjabi and Multani.

The soul stirring award of the evening would have to go to Parvati Baul. Armed with nothing but an ektara and her voice she drove us to the point of tears as she herself let water flow out of her eyes rivetted skywards. If only our Indian rock bands had one thousandth the feeling that this lady poured out.

Of were two Qawwali groups the one led by Iqbal Banda Nawazi wasn't bad but was completely outshone by the obviously experienced Chisti Brothers group led by the approaching-Nusrat vocals of Sarfaraz Chisti. The vocal jugalbandhi that ensued between him and the supporting vocalists sent a round of shivers through the audience. Its incredible how something can be so complex and so effortless all while expressing the simplest emotions. Astounding.

Zikr-e-Rifayi marked a change in tempo and intensity, preferring the soothing sounds of the Jikir Jari compositions of Azan Peer, a 16th century Sufi saint of Assam. Like an Assamese mist, the group led by Hafiza Begum wafted over us.

I have often heard Buddhist chants especially those by Lama Tashi, Principle Chant Master for the Dalai Lama but those were all CDs. I didn't anticipate the tremendous energy that six monks could generate. Conjuring sounds from deep within their gut they literally threw me from my front row seat every time a crescendo or sudden surge came about. They apparently practice near Jog falls competing in the volume department with the falling water, straining their throats constantly. The resultant effect is supposed to generate immense positive energy. Damn right it did. I felt it in my bones.

I still feel the entire show in depths of my soul and the cockles of my heart. I want to hold on to what I felt there forever or atleast carry a little part of it wherever I may roam. I thank them all.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007


The flimsy frame of the Maruti Van was hurting down a picturesque Goa road, blurred visions quaint old Goan homes barely registering in our minds. Vincent, our driver was controlling the steering wheel with his right elbow, to leave his hands free to flip through his CD wallet, "I have Konkani, Russian or Himesh songs, which you want?" We settled on Konkani. Although this time was my tenth visit, I've never been to Goa for New Year. I had images of street parties, raves at every corner, oceans of humanity, basically more than my nature boy instincts can handle.

Luckily, we were relegated to a cosy corner of South Goa, near a tiny town called Varca that basically revolved around its spanking white church, recently given a facelift. Staying at the Colonia Jose Meninho, a stone's throw away from the secluded Zalor beach, it was a reintroduction to the word peaceful. There was no Euro trash, no extended families of middle class India tasting the surf in their salwars, no lines of shops attempting to sell you everything and the elephant.

Just an endless stretch of untouched sand playing kissing games with an almost blue ocean. A 500m walk along the beach and I would find myself completely alone with the sound of the sea, sometimes not encountering any human beings for a couple of hours. I spent a lot of time meditating in my own little alcove, drinking the cool air in greedy gulps, experiencing a steady calm.

This beach is so untouched that tons of sea creatures can be spotted, drawing in the Sandpipers for a ready buffet. Starfish, many species of crabs, a huge pile of fish eggs, clams and oysters burrowing into the sand, even the occasional dolphin sighting, their shiny bodies reflecting the sun as they jumped over the waves.

There were occasional visitors, each with a story to tell. The HUGE buffalo, kept in check by Mark, was fresh off a victory in the bull fighting tournaments that they have around here. No matadours, its bull against bull. Cruel yes, but try telling Mark that as he bathes Bonny in the sea with the pride of a prizewinner.

No such luck for Rakesh the fisherman. He moanfully tells me that he has been casting his net all night and all morning and has only managed a to snare a few crabs. He's afraid he'll have to go hungry. I quickly pulled out all the small notes I have and pressed it into his palm, over riding his protests. His eyes well up with tears as he proceeds to tell me the story of his life. Apparently he was the eldest brother in a rich landowners family in Bihar. His two younger brothers wanted the lions share of the spoils and started plotting to have him killed. They even tried twice before Rakesh decided to escape to Goa. He worked at a beach shack for a while before resorting to fish for a living. It isn't in his blood and he usually struggles, especially since the local fishermen aren't very keen on sharing their know how with an outsider. But he ploughs on like so many millions mulling everywhere.

At the behest of my young cousin from the US we celebrated New Year at a five star resort, shelling out a mind numbing amount of money. If it wasn't my favourite aunt and uncle I'd have a lot more to say about this but it was a first even for them, so lets let it lie. The buffet spread was extensive with 30 kinds of salad, 6 different cuisines and over 40 different deserts. Unfortunately the entertainement in the form of ungraceful dancers and a Goan uncle band that was horrible to say the least. The worst thing for me was the wastefulness and opulence. Foriegners piled their plates with food only to waste it after a couple of mouthfuls or just a taste. I couldn't help thinking of poor Rakesh and so many others who would have gone hungry as the New Year dawned. It made me lose my appetite.

The time spent with the family was wonderful though, and I got a few more stories out of my uncle who has seen Bob Marley, The Police and a whole load of jazz artists live in the 70s.

It wasn't the typical Goa trip but it was definitely the most peaceful one.