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Gig of the Week: World Jazz Festival, Mumbai

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The term ‘World Jazz’ seemed perfect as artists from The Netherlands, Thailand, South Africa, India, France, South Korea, Suriname and the US got together at Bandra’s St Andrew’s Auditorium. In its first edition, the World Jazz Festival organised by Banyan Tree provided a variety of styles over two scintillating weekend concerts.

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The audience heard standards, bebop, jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, rap-jazz, traditional Thai tunes and even a few improvisations of Indian raags and film songs. Though the venue wasn’t jam-packed, there was a sizeably large audience which got its money’s worth.
The biggest surprise came from Thailand’s Koh Mr Saxman & Takeshi Band, which played with an energy that could give marathon runners a complex. Led by the enthusiastic and versatile Koh, the group opened the second evening with minimal expectation.
Its first number, the original Friends Forever, seemed to be influenced by 1970s band Spyro Gyra, and The River Of Love was in soulful mode. Vocalist Pui Duangpon rendered a traditional Thai tune but suddenly grabbed everyone’s attention with a “jazzified” take on the Hindi film song Tum Hi Ho from Aashiqui 2. Naturally, her diction wasn’t perfect, but full marks for tunefulness and confidence.
The band just took off after that, rendering the Ray Charles-popularised Georgia On My Mind, Fred Astaire’s Cheek To Cheek and Sway, made famous by The Rat Pack, before an amazing sax-driven version of Gulabi Ankhen from the Hindi film The Train. The encore involved an energetic saxophone duet with senior Dutch artiste Alexander Beets.
If the Thai group kept everyone swinging, the other bands added to the glory. The opening evening began with South African pianist Ntando Ngcapu and his band, comprising double bass and drums. The children-friendly If You’re Happy And You Know It and original Young Ones were sprightly, Ngcapu used a South African flavour on Ave Man. While he was technically wonderful, a little more swing was probably needed.
Saturday’s show concluded with the Round Midnight Orchestra from the Netherlands, led by saxophonist Beets and featuring American vocalist, Deborah Carter. The group had performed in October at the NCPA International Jazz Festival, and had a similar set list this time, with the addition of an Indian element on two tracks.
Taking listeners on a journey through the jazz-filled Harlem area in New York, the orchestra presented hits like Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, Dizzy Gillespie’s Night In Tunisia, Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight and George Gershwin’s I Love You Porgy. Sitar player, Shakir Khan and tabla exponent, Bhushan Parchure collaborated with the jazz artistes with compositions in raags Bageshri and Madhuwanti.
Though one has heard the popular tunes often before, one never tires of them, specially when played by accomplished musicians. The Round Midnight Orchestra clearly had the aficionados humming along.
On Day 2, Koh Mr Saxman’s incredible performance was followed by Dutch trumpeter Saskia Laroo and her band. She played a few tracks from her latest album Trumpets Around The World, with rapper MC Complex sounding crisp on From Scratch and Prepare & Beware. Some technical gadgetry issues affected the flow, but Laroo made up with her controlled playing.
The set included dedications to trumpeter Roy Hargrove and legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. Then, singer Gayatri Asokan joined in with the Ahmed Faraz-written ghazal Suna Hai Log Use Aankh Bharke Dekhte Hain and the raag Yaman piece Mein Wari Wari Jaaoon. Her phrasing was wonderful, and tabla player, Anubrata Chatterjee provided perfect accompaniment.
Later, the renowned Louiz Banks joined on piano on Gershwin’s Summertime. The all-star jam session featured another rendition of Georgia On My Mind, and concluded with Herbie Hancock’s iconic Watermelon Man.
The festival, held in association with Dutch event organisers Amersfoort Jazz, also included a separate section on jazz for children, conducted by Laroo. One good thing was that after the Mahindra Blues Festival at Mehboob Studio, Bandra, earlier this month, this was the second major international music fiesta in the suburbs.
Barring the technical glitch and some uncomfortable feedback during the Laroo performance, the sound was amazing throughout. One only wished those few empty seats were filled up on both days. All in all, two wonderful evenings of jazz.
Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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