Shashank Subramanyam's flute melded with the western notes of the Jungle Orchestra
The queue snaked along the veranda of the Chowdiah Memorial Hall way before the designated start of the concert at 6.30 p.m. Bangalore loves musicians and more so because Shashank Subramanyam, the Indian flute maestro who was to perform, originally hails from the city. Sneaking into the green room to have a quick chat, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Danish group snazzily turned out in cotton kurtas. The concert was a mix of Indian flute, mridangam, and western jazz by Duke Ellington. “ I have been performing for 25 years now,” said Shashank and he is barely 31 years old. “I collaborate with the best musicians in the world. So far I have performed in 2,500 concerts and have cut over 50 CDs with the last one being with John McLaughlin also known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, the best guitar player in the world. It received a Grammy nomination. I have performed in several collaborative projects with maestros such as Zakir Hussain.”
“In 2008, Shashank and I met at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival at the Royal Playhouse,” says Pierre Dorge the leader of the band called Jungle Orchestra. “It was there that Shashank felt that he should perform in his home countrywith us. I always longed to come to India, ever since I heard Ravi Shankar play in 1965 in Copenhagen,” he adds.
The concert line up consisted of a number of melodies composed by Pierre which is a mix of African, Asian and European music. Formed in 1980, the band was named Jungle Orchestra after the ‘growling jungle' sound of Duke Ellington's genre of jazz.
The evening was a melding of sounds played by virtuosos on their favourite instruments. The clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, soprano sax, piano, and bass cello represented the West and the mridangam and Shashank's fistful of flutes were from the East.
The band started the evening with a beautiful song “Mpizo” which was dedicated to a South African musician named Embizo. This melody flowed gently into a religious sounding hymn called “Det Koster” which Pierre said meant going to church. Dressed in a bright blue kurta encrusted with diamante work across the yoke, Shashank performed like a true star. The first on his list was “Swarlaya”, feast of sounds from the east and west. . Dedicated to his baby daughter there was no doubt that Shashank is effortlessly brilliant. One would have expected him to coax out his bewitching melodies from a fancy flute. Instead, we spent the evening watching him switch flutes of five different sizes, and all of simple, eco-friendly bamboo. His eyes were closed for most part of his performance.
“Whispering Elephants” was a piece that showed off the scintillating genius of Dorge, the composer. The wind instruments, especially the trombone and the trumpet effectively replicated the snuffling, snorting, whooshing sounds made by elephants in a showy and sparkling medley . A huge appreciative round of applause greeted this particular offering. But what stole everyone's hearts was the band's rendering of a dedication to the Bollywood film “Monsoon Wedding” which they enjoyed in Copenhagen. Every single member of the 10-man strong band was a seasoned veteran and ended the evening by coming off the stage and strolling through the audience enthralling them with their easy expertise.