Tag Archives: Prasanna

Jazz is Forever: JazzFest 2013 – A Preview

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Congo Square, a non-profit music society dedicated to the promotion and exposition of jazz, blues and associated music is bringing to Kolkata a musical manna of sorts, as they have for many, many preceding years. JazzFest, in itself grown into a significant titular event in the global jazz circle is bringing artists of international renown to the east Indian city on November 29, 30th and December 1st. In collaboration with numerous art counsels, consulates, art agencies and jazz organisations operating across the world, Congo Square creates an intimate yet expansive setting in which music lovers are able to interact with authentic,  soul-striking music in the midst of kindred souls and tonal and technical virtuosos.

Congo Square’s promise of quality is unprecedented. Having played host to illustrious names such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Garret, Lisa Henry, Rene Rama Quartet & Oriental Wind, Shakti, Clark Terry, Globe Unity Orchestra, Charles Mingus Dynasty, Louiz Banks, Embryo Larry Corryel, Karin Krog, George Brooks,  Selva Ganesh,  RonuMazumdar, Eric Truffauz, Saskia Laroo, Scott Kinsey, Seamus Blake, Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane, Mandu Sarará, Eric Löhre, Warren Walker, Izaline Calister, Frøy Aagre, Dafnis Prieto, Bu JazzO and  Prasanna among others, they are seasoned players in the exquisite event-planning game. As expected, they have accumulated consistent critical acclaim from prestigious sources including esteemed journalistic dailies such as The Telegraph and The Times of India. Thanks to them, this city has seen unforgettable moments like Watermelon Man Herbie Hancock and saxophone god Wayne Shorter, dominate the stage and all the listeners’ minds.

But what’s most striking is the lineup for . Day 1 sees  Carlos Bica and AZUL Trio (Germany) and Milan Svoboda Quartet (Czech Republic). Day 2 features Aakash Mittal Quintet (India/Australia/USA) and Prasanna and the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music Faculty Band (India/USA/Mexico) and finally, Day 3 brings Yuri Honing Wired Paradise (Netherlands) and George Brooks Summit (USA/Germany).

Dazzled yet? If so, you can get tickets priced at Rs. 300 (Daily) and Rs. 750 (Season) here. So, prepare yourself for some of the most memorable evenings in this lifetime.  As Henri Matisse put it, “Jazz is meaning and rhythm.”

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The Prasanna Carnatic Guitar Quartet at Windmills Craftworks, Bangalore

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Crossover: Baiju Dharmajan

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After listening to Motherjane’s Maktub, I was really looking forward to and all geared up for Baiju’s solo album. Baiju Dharmajan’s first solo album contains six fresh instrumental pieces in a sonic setting quite different from the darker Motherjane palettes. With a catchpenny price on the tag, the album is a steal, given the rich quality of content Baiju offers in this album. The whole album’s got a laid back, feel good approach yet not lacking in mean guitar riffs.

Crossover opens up with a very Steve Vai-Steve Morse-ish jam track ‘Demented’. Baiju throws in killer ‘Carnatic’ riffs right from the start on this album and there is some very accessible riffing and infectious guitar playing. The rhythms section could have been more interesting with live drums. The soloing is very fluid, bluesy yet freak-outish.

The album takes a shift from Saturn-orbiting stuff to breezy biking on seaside highways of Kerala with the next track ‘Alchemy’. On this rhythmically complex track in 7/8 time, Baiju goes to his Ilayaraaja roots clearly. With the Tubescreamer on full, the tone is killer and at times throaty, reminding one of the ‘Blow by Blow’ and ‘Wired’ sounds of Jeff Beck.

‘Halo,’ the third track continues on this breezy outlook with more of the ‘backwaters and china nets’ atmospheres. With apt circular riffing and a raga-base (closely resembles Hamsadhwani at places), ‘Halo’ is a jocular trip, which is well contrasted by the next track ‘Cyber Reptile’.

‘Cyber Reptile’ is one to plug in and go on an ego trip through the cubicles of your office to the coffee kiosk downstairs. As in many songs on the album, the riff is very cyclical turning in circles, with a recurrent theme. The rhythm section is very similar to the electronica albums of Beck and Satriani (Jeff by Beck, 2003 and Engines of Creation by Satch, 2000). The solo has those contextually apt and fantastic breaks of slide-licks. The squeals and bends contribute to the overall futuristic sound scapes amidst the effervescent Carnatic riffing.

‘Philia’ is a soulful ballad – hitting the brakes after bucket-loads of riffing and heavy patterns. It is also set in a complex time signature of 5/4 but in a more self-reflective mood, with textures in the style of traditional Carnatic composers. ‘Philia’ is certain to be the ‘sunset song’ for many!

The album closes out with the wah-wah heavy, yet softer in overall texture ‘Landscapes’ which doesn’t feature the flashy guitar playing, but with effects galore paints a picture of fascination that an urban yuppie would get while travelling across the greens of the paddy fields and the clear blue sky somewhere in interior South India.

Overall, there are eclectic soundscapes reminiscent of Asimovian space-fiction, coconut trees, backwaters of Cochin and office cubicles. Instrumental rock in India starts here for me. And surely more Satriani and Vai like sounds can be expected from the “God of Small Strings” Baiju Dharmajan.

Bone of Contention: Carnatic rock is a term used constantly to describe Motherjane’s and more specifically Baiju Dharmajan’s music. For something to be called ‘Carnatic rock’ we need raagas, gamakas and the usual rock components of riffs, power chords and blues licks. The quintessential recording that emphasizes all these aspects of ‘Carnatic rock’ remains ‘Electric Ganesha Land’ by Prasanna (2006). In my opinion,Crossover may not classify as Carnatic rock, but it does set a mood for things to come that may tend more towards it, but at the moment we could term it ‘Desi-Rock’, ‘Native-rock’, ‘roots-rock’ or some other word that hazily captures music set in indigenous environments.

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In conversation with Jordan Rudess

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Jordan Rudess has had a busy few months. After an extensive 14-month tour with his band, the keyboardist and one-half of the primary songwriting force behind Progressive Metal act Dream Theater was in Chennai for a week-long residency programme with the Diploma students at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), which ended with a two-day workshop titled ‘Connecting The Dots’ — where he joined Prasanna (guitarist and President of SAM) to talk about music education, entrepreneurship and innovation in sound.

It’s not every day (or every year even) that someone from a band as big and constantly on the road as Dream Theater comes down here, to a two-year-old music academy to talk to and spend time with young, talented and curious musicians. Even to a curious fan for that matter. As a decade-long fan of Dream Theater, our heads were buzzing with questions — curious about the details and excited at the opportunity. Here are excerpts from an hour-long press conference that turned into a mike-hogging session by yours truly. (“Did the other journalists hire you to ask the questions,” he ribs me before he gets talking.)

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: As a classical-trained pianist who flits across Progressive Rock keys, synthesizers and electronically-produced sound, how important do you think formal training is for a musician?

Rudess: Music is a funny thing. A lot of people think that they can take a shortcut in music. They think they can watch him (pointing at Prasanna) play or watch me play and they think “Oh, it’s just happening! It’s just some kind of magic!” And you know what, it is magic. And the thing we don’t maybe like to broadcast (although we do broadcast that in an educational environment) is that it takes work. It takes work no matter what you do in music — even if you’re a self-taught songwriter — you need to refine your craft. And spend your time doing it. For me, it’s about the physical musical instrument; to be able to play the piano, to play the keyboard. It actually takes the skill. It is very much like a sport. You have to spend time at your craft. You have to learn the language of music. In order for me to play the piano, I have to learn the words … for me to communicate it as it happens and to put it all together in a cohesive sentence, the language of music. This takes time and effort and you have to practice. When you take lessons, be it with a guru or you go a music school, you sit all day long and you figure out trying to translate what’s in your mind to what’s in your hand or on your computer. It’s going to take time to put all that together. So, it’s a myth that music just comes to you out of nowhere.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: How did Mike Portnoy’s departure affect the other band members?

Rudess: At first when Portnoy decide to leave, it was shocking. Especially since he was the one who ‘hired’ me into the band. In the end, he has his own reasons. He has his own life. He’s been with Dream Theater much longer. So, his life was obviously going in a totally different direction. And the other people in the group, when he left, couldn’t really relate even though we were in the group before, like him. They didn’t feel like what he was feeling at all. The main thing when Portnoy left was he created this situation where he wanted to go, but everyone else wanted to create music together. So, what started out like a bit of a bummer actually turned into something really amazing, starting with all these really amazing drummers coming from all around the world to audition for us.

WTS: So how did Mike Mangini land the job?

Rudess: It was an amazing experience for us, auditioning for a new drummer for the band. So then we thought, “okay, so there is life after Portnoy, with all these guys wanting to play with us, the best drummers on the planet!” So, Mike Mangini came in, the first one to audition. He came in, and blew our minds into pieces. We improvised together and it was really, really exceptional. We knew that we were okay. Then he came into the room and it’s been really good.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: Did you fear there would be a change in the sound that your fans would know as ‘typically DT’?

Rudess: There’s a common misconception that Mike Portnoy is the one responsible for the sound of Dream Theater. Yes, he is the charming one, fronting it all, handling the media and answering questions. But when it comes to the composition, it’s been Petrucci and myself since the time I joined the band. One of the things we’re trying to do is to move to a bigger level with the sound. The state of Dream Theater right now is that everybody always learns from everybody else. And we now have Mike Mangini, one of the most incredible drummers on the planet earth, in my opinion. You know, one day, he was sitting there all day long, playing 17 on his right hand and 4 on his left on a pattern until we caught on. He’s always trying to better himself, become a better musician. He’s interested in what I’m doing and I’m interested in what he’s doing. So when he’s trying a 17 against a 4. He’ll show me that and I’ll try to play a 17 pattern on my right hand and a 4 pattern on the left while I sing something completely different. So there’s space for all of us to grow together.

WTS: What kind of autonomy does each band member have in deciding the kind of sound that goes into each album?

Rudess: There’s always a producer and until Portnoy left, he was the one in charge of producing the albums. I call the producers the Dream Theater police. Dream Theater is a wide musical open space — but even like that, if you go outside that window of musical possibilities, the possibility is no longer Dream Theater. So, somebody has to stay in charge of what is inside that window. It’s the producer’s role to do that. I haven’t been in the role of being the one having the final say, but the last album we did, John Petrucci was the producer and he did a wonderful job because he allowed everybody to really be their best, which is really the producer’s role. And that is what I want.  To be able to give to Dream Theater what I want to compositionally and creatively with my sounds. And at the same time, making sure that we keep within the window and make it sound presentable as Dream Theater.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: How do you find time for a disciplined practice session while on tour?

Rudess: We are the biggest practice-a-holics. We practice before the gigs usually. We have time allotted. There are schedules where we go crazy and focus and practice for a couple of hours. There are two things that go with Dream Theater as far as practice goes. One is, we have to be very warmed up. Part of it is being able to relax. Warming up physically on your instrument and another is to just spiritually be able to control your mind and your body in front of a lot of people.

WTS: Is it true that you came up with material for your new album from impromptu jams during the sound checks at your concerts?

Rudess: Just a little bit. Generally, we tried some different ideas. I actually had a few kickass jams with Mangini because it was so cool for me to be able to play with someone who could go on odd time signatures. We don’t know if it’s for the new album or just for fun. But we had some good jams and we believe up around, come January or February, we might go into the studio again and really focus on writing. I don’t so much like to write on the road.  I need to be inside a studio and really focus on the composition and the writing process.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: When will Dream Theater fans in India get to watch you guys perform live?

Rudess: In the last few years we’ve had some offers, but there’s a lot of logistics to think about while bringing or band to India, especially with all the gear that has to be shifted around. A lot of people think it’s very easy when they say, “oh, you do have a lot of fans so you should come here!” It’s more complicated than that. A lot of pieces have to come together. With a really, really good promoter with a secure offer, security and who can handle all the logistics to let us get into the country with all that gear, that takes some pretty good good funding.

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Connecting the Dots with Jordan Rudess & Prasanna at SAM, Chennai

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Natabhairavi by Prasanna

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How do you make a carnatic album, pure carnatic that is, and yet lure the average blues-rock fan?Prasanna has the answer here in Natabhairavi. By carefully choosing raagas that have a cool, groovy, bluesy feel, he has made a near magnum opus here.

Opening up with the ‘Varnam‘ (Evvari Bodhana vini) in Abhogi, a pentatonic mode of the Dorian equivalent Kharaharapriya, Prasanna fluctuates immaculately between double time and triplets that are inherent in varnams. There is little soloing in this piece as varnams are strict compositions and are to be rendered with minimal improvs.

The second piece in Nattai, ‘Karimuga Varada is a soulful yet tight jam. Prasanna however lets loose post the charanam(the third distinct melody in the Krithi form), flying two octaves with ease and also quoting in between from the Thyagaraja epic, ‘Jagadanandakaraka’.

Prasanna coaxes beauty from all sides in the third track, ‘Tholi Janma in Raga Bilahari, which sounds like the whole guitar is brimming with immense joy. Khanda chapu, the cycle of 5 beats is charming, complex and groovy, and the accompaniment of A.K.Palaniel on Thavil, and Kaarthick on Ghatam is exlemplary. Bilahari is a mode of the western major scale that has a major pentatonic in the ascent and a major in the descent.

The happiness continues to be the centric theme going into the slower, complex-time Deekshitar krithi, ‘Kamalamba Samrakshatumam‘ in Ananda Bhairavi. Prasanna delivers an inch perfect rendition with minimum improvs, preserving the serenity surrounding the original.

The album reaches the climax in the 5th and largest piece, ‘Sri Valli Deva Senapathe‘ in Natabhairavi, the minor scale equivalent in carnatic. Prasanna drives through the raga extensively, creating tensions, environs and soundscapes with the custom-designed Guru Brahma amps with a violinesque delay to back the sustain. The highlight of the album being Prasanna’s improvs, majestic patterns and the percussion solo. AKP and Kaarthick take turns initially to solo on top of the 8 beat taala, and quietly move into a private battlefield of their own, shooting each other with bullets, arrows and what not, all while maintaining time (unlike western drum solos).

The penultimate track is a soothing noteswara or direct Major scale rendition without much carnatic flavour, ‘Shakti Sahita Ganapatim‘ reminds us of Bach and western influences in carnatic music.

The last track is a ‘Bhajan‘ in Raga Kalyanavasantham that seems to end before it begins.

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