Two dreamers. Eleven collaborations. One quartet. Nine guitars. One voice. Ten stories about urban life in our cities. The image that Delhi-based Adil & Vasundharas debut album Ampersand presents at first glance is very inviting. Its refreshing to finally see Indian bands add relevance to their themes by embracing the awesome chaos that is life in our own cities. Ampersand narrates ten stories from urban India. The concept rings true through the album, but one has to listen closely to really absorb the different themes. Like with most good jazz, the references are subtle.
The core band consists of Adil Manuel on guitars, Vasundhara Viradur on vocals, Saurabh Suman on bass, Sava Boyadzhiev on drums and Rohit Gupta on keys. Although very jazz based, the album explores a lot of funk and rock elements as well. Add to it the fact that some of the best musicians in the country have collaborated with the band on this, it all makes for a very exciting listening experience.
The album starts with 15 Nights to Dawn, a song about the despair of an artist who realizes the true importance of his gift only when it is taken away from him. Loy Mendonsa plays the keys on this. His style is minimalistic and soothing. The lyrics are moving and the song successfully portrays the desperate passion that the theme presents.
The next song Pinocchio Times is about the 9-to-5 woes of the average Joe white collar worker in the city. Collaborator Ranjit Barots drumming is as chaotic as it is controlled: most of the song is on a meter of 11 with several arcane polyrhythms worked over it. The drum solo in the middle of the song is one to watch out for. The album moves on to Refuge, a song about refugee settlements in Delhi. This track employs a very catchy Assamese bihu beat. It has a raw folksy feel to it, uniquely merged into a jazz setting. The outro has Vasundhara humming over the chords creating an eerie soundscape to end the song.
The next two songs Waking Hours and Dog Days provide a small twist to the album, both relatively straightforward compared to the other tracks but enjoyable nevertheless. Waking Hours is about romance in our crowded city streets and features some delicious keys by another Indian jazz giant, Louiz Banks. Dog Days is a short blues number featuring Sanjay Divecha on the guitar and Zubin Balaporaia on the organ.
Now we come to my favourite song in the album. Creek Funk treads carefully at the start, but soon launches into an amazing blend of powerful vocals, brilliant drumming and trademark keyboard licks by Louiz Banks that fill up the sound perfectly. Its not often that the bassline of a song turns out to be such a powerful earworm but bassist Saurabh Suman manages to create a thing of beauty. The song ends with Vasundhara doubling the bassline making sure the earworm stays. This song surely is one for the ages.
The next song is One Winged Goose, a quirky, almost strange number. With lyrics like A flying teapots a goose with one wing one could mistake it for a John Lennon song. Amidst the absurd imagery, Adil Manuels guitar solo introduces a serious counterpoint for a while but Suchet Malhotra guesting on drums restores the wacky feel of the song. This is followed by Parentheses, a beautiful jazzy ballad in French. Even though I do not understand the language, the chorus seems to get stuck in my head every time I listen to it.
Blue Bashing is a loud guitar-driven blues number about the love-hate relationship of a couple, again with a very catchy chorus. All the songs have amazingly layered guitar parts, but this song is the first time one can clearly hear Adils guitar playing take centre stage. The song also has a section of quirky and very well done childrens voices that lend a very dark feel. The artwork for this song is especially intriguing and worth checking out. Also, the fact that there is artwork for every song deserves a special mention. It is very well done and each one represents its respective song perfectly.
The album ends with a slow jazz-blues ballad called Not Another Blues. Vasundharas vocals take the spotlight, with Louiz Banks returning to provide a lovely base to the song. It is interesting to note that they chose to end the album not with the typical last-track-of-album fireworks, but with a number of depth and quality, showcasing the musical ideology of the band.
All in all, this album has excellent production values, catchy songs and contributions by the Whos Who of the Indian jazz scene- a perfect accompaniment to your rainy monsoon evening! With so much going into the album, there are so many &s on the album that it is much bigger than just Adil & Vasundhara, hence the name Ampersand. The name itself represents that there is more to the album than what you would expect, which can never be a bad thing, can it? Ampersand isnt the easiest album for a layperson to digest, but is definitely an absolute treat for a jazz fan or any music-lover. As the band says- Hop on board the AMPERSAND!