Jazz Corner

Swing! Suddenly the word seems to have become trendy, popular,au courant! In the recent cricket tournament in England, swing bowlers were very important, whether they bowled swing or even reverse swing.  Much like the word jazz itself, swing maybe a little difficult to define in precise terms. It is perhaps best understood as the type of music which wants you to get up and dance the jive. An approximate explanation of swing (in jazz) was offered by vocalist Jon Hendricks. He was attempting to vocalize the big band music of Count Basie, whose music had plenty of this item, swing. Hendricks was trying to explain to his chorus singers what he wanted from them and said, “On a four beat cycle, stay just behind the beat on the first three and make up on the fourth!”  That great maestro, Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and promptly wrote a song by that name to make his point.

As popular music of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, jazz had a large fan following. Local bands and musicians, playing mainly covers of the then popular songs were thriving as a community. Somewhere in the late Sixties, in the India of the license raj and of Fiats and Ambassadors, somehow the link with what was then popular with jazz internationally was broken. There seems to have been a jazz vacuum in India for a period of time. With the emergence of the electric keyboards, electric bass guitars and a dominating rock sound in the Seventies, jazz musicians found their inspiration in the sounds of various types of fusion. Indian musicians took this detour and considered it the mainstream and have remained in this time warp of sorts ever since. “To know where you’re going, you gotta know where you have come from,” said Art Blakey of the Jazz Messengers. It is an important message for serious, aspiring jazz musicians. With new jazz/music schools opening in many Indian locations, including one in Mumbai, there is bound to be a greater understanding of the roots of jazz with gen next. The music of bebop changed forever the approach of jazz musicians. First of all, it calls for great dexterity and mastery of one’s instrument or voice. This calls for creativity and improvisational skills of a high order and really involves the audience. It may be likened to a stirring verbal discussion by a panel of knowledgeable orators!

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The Bill Evans show was technical wizardry at work

The quartet was promising but needs a few more shows to get its act together

Bill Evans & Ranjit Barot with Etienne Mbappe and Marc Guillermont, Blue Frog, Mumbai, June 7th:

(l-r) Marc Guillermont, Bill Evans, Etienne Mbappe at Blue Frog, Mumbai Photo:Tejeshwar Balachander

It looked every bit a jazz band on stage. The saxophones, the big bass with its six strings, the electric guitar and of course, Ranjit Barot on drums. Did it sound like a jazz band?

For a group that had never played together till the previous night at the Delhi Blue Frog, they sounded quite cohesive.  Barot  explained to the audience that they had exchanged each others’ music by email and would gel once they were on stage together. That’s a giant step forward for collaborations, but how do you email soul? The bit about feeding off each others’ energy must surely be lost. They made the most of it because of their technical mastery.

Barot was on his drums looking every bit as if astride his Harley Davidson. He was driving the rhythm with muscle power but with purpose. International musical exposure has undoubtedly matured Barot’s playing.

The set opened with great promise. It had a gospel feel to it, a persuasive rhythm and an inspired solo on the tenor sax by Bill Evans. The music, however, took off in different directions thereafter. Compositions from each of the quartet, with a different feel each time, made the musical experience a bit confusing.

Etienne Mbappe’s composition “PYMFAO”, an acronym of largely unprintable words, expended oodles of energy. Mbappe is essentially a melodic bass player and did justice to the sound all evening. Bill Evans, playing both tenor and soprano sax, was clearly enjoying himself. He even commented that he didn’t get paid for playing, but just for travelling! His playing on the tenor was a notch above his forays on the soprano, at least in the format of this quartet. French guitarist, Marc Guillermont played well on his composition, “R & D”, but otherwise failed to display much melodic feel in his solos. He is young and will grow in time.

One came away with the feeling that this quartet, if they played together regularly, has good musical potential. Did they sound like a jazz band? I am still not sure about that.

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