It was tradition with a twist as Sudha Ragunathan, Amit Heri and their live-wire accompanists engaged in sparkling repartee
"A Carnatic-Jazz fusion is practically impossible!" a lady sitting beside me firmly stated as several heads around her vigorously nodded in agreement. An unexpected delay in the programme's start had set off mixed conversations, much like the music that was in store for us that night. Finally, vehement arguments and exaggerated statements later, it all subsided as the musical ensemble assembled, and the stage came slowly alive. It was the third concert in the line up for The Hindu Friday Review November Fest.
Sudha Ragunathan, the star attraction for the evening warmed up the audience with the evergreen composition in Natai, “Maha Ganapatim”, with mridangist,Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan accompanying her.
Thirty seconds into the pallavi, the song received a fresh lease of life with Karl Peters, the bass guitarist joining the party with his innovative strumming to suit the mood. Jeoraj George, the drummer wasn't far behind; his inventive use of the bass drum for the song left the audience awe-struck. Sudha and Vaidyanathan strolled along the classical line with the bassist and the drummer slipping in with funky fill-ins.
The unexpected addition of “Ganapaty bappa maurya” into the synchronous rhythm, was a bit odd. But, everything fell into place again with a brilliant violin solo by Embar Kannan. The song ended with a beautiful rendition of swaras funked up with the buoyant bass work, and some great ghatam playing by Giridhar Udupa.
The varnam “Maate Malayadhwaja” was next. It got off to a breezy, jazzy start. The song stood out for its subtle variations extravagantly rendered. And, the internationally renowned guitarist Amit Heri finally came into the picture. The confluence of the drummer and the bassist lit up the stage.
The bassist warrants special mention; his pauses and sustains were thrilling to say the least. The final flourish was an ecstatic jugalbandhi filled with ease and grace. The power packed nature of the climax was truly exhilarating.
The third song was the ever popular “Taaye Yeshodaa”. Sudha's alapana was a picture of poise, power and passion. The swaraprastaras with the gamakams were inspiring. There was a stunning showcase of brilliance by the violinist. The startling feature about Sudha is the consistency in her voice, regardless of the pitch. Mridangist Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan, then proceeded to take the audience by storm. He was joined by fiery solo sessions by Udupa and Jeo, the drummer. The termination of solos culminated with the consortium of the percussionists. This is where boundaries of genre blurred and the spirit of contemporary music blazed forth. The terrific trio set the stage on fire.
After an hour of power, the audience was treated to the melodious “peace song”. Soft spoken Heri introduced the song and it got off to a soothing and prelude orchestrated by Embaar Kannan.
It was here that one saw the phenomenon that's Amit Heri. The popular “Krishna Nee” followed. It was given an intriguing jazzy shake-up, the central portions highlighting the power of fusion. The concert came to a close with a Balamuralikrishna composition in Brindavani. The only letdown of the evening seemed to be Amit Heri's reluctance to steal the spotlight. A gifted musician with enviable credentials and international fame, the guitarist left the audience wanting more.
One did get tantalising glimpses of his brilliance, but he never let himself dominate. Every other performer onstage had his share of the limelight, but for Heri, which was rather disappointing.
However, it was a day that had something for everyone. The Carnatic enthusiasts got their share and so did the jazz fans. It was a truly engaging battle involving two genres and predictably, music came out trumps.