This is a line-up that I thought I’d never see – with Arati Rao on Vocals, Aman Mahajan on the piano, Sharik Hassan on Organ, and Adrian D’Souza on Drums. Being a jazz keyboard player myself, when I first heard that Sharik and Aman were going to be on stage together, I knew that I HAD to see this show. And I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that this happened to be one the best jazz shows I’ve attended this year.
BFlat, as always, was very welcoming, with an amazing line-up of tracks to set the mood before the band came up on stage. This is a pretty important aspect that many venues overlook. When the band took the stage, they jumped right into their first track with a bombastic instrumental Bossa tune. I was completely floored by this track. It looked completely improvised and each of them played through it so well. D’Souza was holding a solid groove without being obtrusive, while Sharik’s insane bass section blew me away instantly. Of course I partially attribute the awesomeness of the organ (no pun intended) to the Nord Electro 3, and I don’t think Sharik would disagree. The first track reminded me of how amazing the mix always is at BFlat. And as every musician knows, a great mix makes a huge difference to what the audience hears, and in turn how the band plays.
The set moved on to some jazz standards – D’Souza really came to the front with this tune. His drum bombs really killed it. Kenny Clarke would’ve been proud. Not too many drummers have the opportunity to use this technique in the context of jazz in India, and it’s nice to see that it’s not a dead art form. After all the three of them went through their solos, they started trading lines of 8 bars each. It was amazing to watch them do it so effortlessly, each of them displaying such maturity in the lines that they chose.
Arati Rao jumped into the set with the third tune with ‘Route66‘, a Bobby Troupe classic. The rendition seemed to be that of Nat King Cole’s, with even the pronunciation being very reminiscent of his recording of the tune. Right through the track, all I could imagine was his broad, toy-like grin. I was even half expecting Arati to imitate that legendary smile. Arati killed the intro to the tune with her amazing scat – very tight.
The set moved rather quickly from here, being all vocal driven tracks, some of the more popular tracks were ‘So Nice’, ‘Someone who’ll watch over me’ and ‘All or nothing at all’. I have a whole bag of superlatives to describe each of these tracks, which I won’t do for brevity’s sake.
The band proceeded to pay tribute to Amy Winehouse. In light of her untimely demise, it seemed fitting, especially with Arati’s amazing vocal range. With a beautiful Bach-esque intro from Sharik, the band played ‘Back to Black’, which moved me tremendously. I truly miss that beast of a musician! Amy, we will always remember you.
Towards the end, Arati invited Priya Mendens to the stage. Priya was introduced as a veteran singer from Mumbai, and the rest of us needed no introduction to Priya. Priya sang ‘All of Me’ with the trio backing her up. Priya is a completely different kind of singer in comparison to Arati. Her tone is rich and classic, reminescent of Sarah Vaughn, while Arati has a more contemporary clear voice. Priya did an amazing job with the jazz standard. I was pleasantly surprised by her improvised scat while the boys were soloing – quite remarkable.
I was very impressed with the band. I remember seeing Arati Rao doing a track with TAAQ long ago at B-Flat. She is amazingly talented; I’m hoping to see her do more gigs. Every time I see Adrian D’Souza play, he surprises me. Just when I think that I’ve seen what he can do, he comes back with more! Having seen the Sharik Hassan Trio a couple of years back, I would say that this show definitely did not highlight Sharik’s ability, but then again if you knew where to look, he did display his skill from time to time, hidden in little changes or voicings here and there. Through the whole show, I was floored by Sharik’s bass-lines. They were not too obvious, yet not too easy, just the right amount to fill up the bass section while leaving room for his right hand to think independently. With Aman, I haven’t really seen him put in such a tight spot before, in terms of his role to the entire sound. Of course, I’m not taking away from his ability, merely commenting that this was the first time I’ve seen him in a minimalistic line-up. And he truly held up very well. A lot of sections were very Chick Corea-esque, while some reminded me of Kenny Barron. Berklee has produced another master-class musician for the Indian jazz scene.
Overall, I was immensely pleased with the entire gig: the mix, the musicians, the set-list, everything! Each of them brought something important to the table, without themselves being obvious. That is truly the sign of amazing musicians.