When I stepped into BFlat on 25th Feb 2012, I was sure that I was in for a musical treat. Arati Rao Shetty’s The Kaya Quintet was performing that evening, and like previous occasions, she had invited some immensely talented musicians to accompany her. This time, she had along with her Aman Mahajan on Keys, Keith Peters on Bass, Arjun Chandran on Guitars and Amit Mirchandani on drums.
B Flat is famous for hosting some of the best acts in the country; the place was spacious, the dim lights were beautiful and the waiters were very friendly. I arrived at this lovely place half an hour before the band started with its performance. Eventually, more people started coming in and the band, sans Arati, took to the stage.
Arjun started fiddling with his guitar and came up with some melodious licks and soon Aman joined in with some beautiful jazz chords, wonderfully complementing the guitar. The drums kicked in soon and Amit, who was using mallets, displayed some clever use of cymbals. Keith, having finished tuning his bass, then joined in with some solid walking bass lines thus initiating a structured, 3-song-long jam session. The last song in the jam session consisted of an interesting display of the “trading fours” technique in which the musicians alternated brief four-bar sections with the drummer.
The first thing that one would notice about B Flat is the marvellous sound. Even though on that particular day, the balance was a tad off (the bass seemed to be overpowering the guitars and keys), the overall sound was reasonably good. Secondly, one would observe the dexterity of the musicians performing. Aman Mahajan, who has a degree in music from the Berklee College of Music, Boston, was equally good with both his hands. The last time I had seen him perform with the Gerard Machado Network, he was performing the low-end duties with his left hand while playing pleasant chords and harmonies with his right. Amit Mirchindani is an amazing drummer and I think his drum solos were very intelligently arranged and executed. Arjun Chandran has a very interesting style, and he often peppers his solos with beautiful staccato style licks and has a vast repertoire of chords which gelled with the instrumental solo sections. Keith Peters needs no introduction. A.R Rahman has not recorded with any bass player other than Keith Peters after 1992, when he first jammed with him. However, I was a little disappointed that Keith did not play his funk style slap pop bass solos as he did the last time I had seen him performing with Amit Heri.
The fourth song (and the first with Arati) was ‘All Or Nothing At All’. This song was composed by Arthur Altman in 1939. I really liked Arati’s powerful vocals and the song seemed eerily haunting yet immensely captivating to me. I’ve been humming this tune ever since I heard it at B Flat.
After this, the crowd was treated to a series of covers of famous jazz numbers such as ‘A Night in Tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie and ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ by Richard Rogers. An interesting point about Arati’s singing style is that she takes vocal solos in between verses, humming out tunes, a style which vaguely reminds one of Chick Corea. The bass lines in the track ‘Song For My Father’ by Horace Silver, contained a lot of double stops and slides which wonderfully complemented Aman’s solos.
The band then played the 1941 Gene de Paul composition, ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, a sad and dramatic song, ending it with a tasteful guitar solo. The song that followed, ‘Rio de Janeiro Blue’ by Randy Crawford, was a peppy upbeat number. I feel the band was impeccably tight in this particular song and Keith’s bassline was irresistibly groovy. Next up was ‘Round Midnight’ by Thelonious Monk, a slow haunting number, performed by only Arati and Aman. The band then proceeded to perform ‘Tokyo Blues’ by Horace Silver followed by ‘At Last’, an Etta James cover. The song ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ was up next, the arrangement for which was done by Aman. The time was close to 11 p.m. and Arati and the gang brought the proceedings to an end by performing the catchy ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ by Robert Johnson, ‘Speak Low’ by Kurt Weil and ‘Just One Of Those Things’ by Cole Porter.
The crowd seemed to absolutely love The Kaya Quintet which was quite evident when Arati asked everyone what the time was (at 10:45 p.m.) and the people seated promptly replied, “It’s just 9 p.m. Please continue playing!” I left BFlat at 11:15 p.m. with a happy feeling, humming to myself the tunes I had heard that night. On the whole, it was an incredible show that left me keenly looking forward to their next performance.
I was backstage with Amit Heri and his band and he told me that he was a little disappointed with the poor turnout at the concert. He said, (and rightly so) that any band feeds off the energy of the crowd when they’re performing. Unfortunately, the Bangalore International Arts Festival was an event that suffered from a distinct lack of advertising which reflected in the sparse crowd at this particular event. Despite having some big-name sponsors and a few acclaimed acts perform, the organizers of BIAF did not update their website, which carried the 2010 schedule until a week prior to the start of the festival.
Nevertheless, a small crowd consisting largely of UB City window shoppers gathered at the amphitheater as acclaimed jazz fusion act Amit Heri Band jammed with saxophonist Matt Renzi. They started their set with ‘Aatma’, a track from Amit Heri’s album Elephant Walk. Drummer and youngest member of the band, Kurt Peters showed supreme self-confidence in the complex drumrolls he pulled off as he easily kept pace with the other veterans on stage.
‘Beyond the Three Walls’ was the next song and the crowd really appreciated the soft hook that was the backbone of this track. Amit Heri’s under-appreciated songwriting skills were on display in the following track ‘Two Blind Mice’. The track, to quote Amit, was about “two people who are in sync, then fall out of sync and then are in sync again”. It started and ended with the Three Blind Mice tune as a motif but the middle section, in keeping with the theme of the song, was a jarring, dissonant piece with all four instruments playing out of sync with each other.
I realized that each member’s on-stage persona was not dissimilar to how they are off-stage. As the band segued into ‘Lessons of Love’, a slow and measured instrumental piece, Amit Heri exuded calmness on stage. Kurt Peters is hyper-active on the drums whilst veteran bassist Karl Peters (who happens to be Kurt’s dad) is as nonchalant as ever as he handles his bass duties with aplomb. Matt Renzi especially shone through in this song as his saxophone brilliantly melded with Amit’s fluid guitar work.
‘Elephant Walk’, a tornado of thundering drums and running bass-lines was the penultimate song the band played before completing their impressive set with ‘Seven Eight Nine’, a song that nicely builds to a massive crescendo helped along with a tight rumbling bass-line.
Experimental Norweigian duo FOOD, were on stage next with virtuoso slide-guitarist Prakash Sontakke (I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere!) Their hour-long set consisted of only two pieces, both entirely improvised. FOOD essentially consists of Iain Bellamy on saxophone and Thomas Strønen who plays the drums and percussion and also controls most of the electronic loops and sound effects. Together with Sontakke, the duo mesmerized the audience with their soundscapes which ranged from the sparse sax punctuated by a single electronica loop to a fusion of mad percussion and slide guitar.
Sontakke was content to play “behind” the duo as they propagated sounds the likes of which the UB City amphitheater had probably never heard before. Admittedly, parts of the 45-minute on-the-spot composition did buckle under its own weight and got a little tedious, but it was interesting to see the direction in which the trio took the song forward. Alas, when the song did come to its conclusion, the crowd had dwindled to half its original strength. Those who stuck around were treated to a streamlined ten minute piece which also featured Sontakke’s rich voice. The star of the performance however was Thomas Strønen who was a monster on the percussion. He played the drums, a bunch of bells and whistles and operated the electronic loops at the same time with the energy of a man possessed.
It was a pity that there were only a handful of people left at the end of the show as FOOD + Sontakke really put on a memorable, if not wholly entertaining show. While the BIAF initiative should be lauded, i do feel that some publicity, especially in the online world would have gone a long way in ensuring the larger crowds that these fantastic artistes deserve.
Saturday night in Bangalore. Overcast and a little moody. Brisk biting wind outside. No better place to be than Herbs and Spice for an evening of jazz with Amit Heri. Since it was a solo perfomance, it was interesting to see songs being built layer upon layer with his loop station. The setting was perfect. Amit’s light strains of whole tone scales and modal improvisations were placed and precise, between humble containment and other times spilling over the ambient table clatter.
His set list contained smart jazz classics like ‘Black Orpheus’, ‘Canteloupe Island’ and ‘Spain’. I personally loved his rendition of ‘A Day In The Life of a Fool’. Melancholic and soulful, his Godin Multiac has a tone that is outworldly and is a masterpiece of craftmanship. Nylon strings on a semi acoustic body that allows for synth access is a guitar worthy of only the noblest fingers. Thats not to say his other guitar, the Gibson ES 355, is any less. Everyone from BB King to Alex Lifeson of Rush has this model as their trademark.
The Digitech Jamman Loopstation is a great tool to make some improv music sound very full and complete onstage. He started one number with a well metered bass+chord sequence, looped that, added a sustained arpeggio on alternate bars, then chopped a chord drenched in wah, and a finally added a ‘string pat’ drum beat. After this layering he moved into a bluesy phrased motif a la John Scofield and lauched into a funk-jazz solo with a beautifully synced finish killing the loop. His later tracks segued jazz-prog with carnatic, sliding some open chord pattern. The last track was a display of his brilliance with some skilled shredding.
Amit looked content throughout the show and his music flowed out effortlessly, peaking against the soft lighting, earthy colors and added various flavors to the mood throughout the evening. Elegant, smooth, and impactful, Amit truly is one of the great living masters of the guitar.