ArtSeek performed jazz standards from various periods, adding their own touches to the arrangements and the concert was tidy without being too ambitious in either their choice of composition or the nature of musical arrangement.

I like November. The weather is just right for music in the outdoors and the festive season has not quite ended. The Hindu Friday Review November Fest has become one of the most well-known music festivals in the country now, and this year seems to be a landmark year in several ways. For one, the festival has moved beyond Chennai. Second, the festival has now become a platform for young talents from Chennai who provide the opening act to each day’s concerts.

The first day’s opening act saw ArtSeek Jazz Unit, a local group consisting of Darbuka Shiva on drums, Subhiksha Rangarajan on vocals, Naveen and Keba on guitar and bass, respectively. Together, they performed jazz standards from various periods, adding their own touches to the arrangements. As a whole, the concert was tidy without being too ambitious in either their choice of composition or the nature of musical arrangement. Having heard Subhiksha live on the Carnatic stage, it was refreshing and quite delightful to listen to her in a different context. Musicians should most certainly try different hats as long as each of these fits as this has the great advantage of aiding the process of self-discovery and learning.

The concert was a bit muted from the start, perhaps due to the vocalist’s amplification levels and lack of energy. Subhiksha is a vocalist with tremendous potential. She has a soft voice that falls like gentle rain and has a soothing quality about it, very reminiscent of a young Eva Cassidy. Given that, her choice of numbers did not play up to her strengths. She was fantastic in “Fly Me to the Moon”, but her apparent lack of energy in rendering such classics as “All of Me” made me wish that the group had spent a little more time planning her songlist to suit her singing style.

Shiva has evolved into a consummate percussionist. He showed fantastic restraint in his accompaniment for such numbers as “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Somewhere there is Music”, ending each phrase with an almost self-conscious hi-hat instead of the expected flourishes. His solos could have been longer and more varied (different rhythm structures, maybe? After all, jazz isn’t about 4/4 rhythms and predictable syncopation). Also, I wonder why he chose to transform the melancholic languorousness of “Autumn Leaves” into a heavy-handed bossa-nova rhythm. Experiments are interesting but not without clarity behind the rationale. Shorn of its slow-paced sensuousness (which would have worked beautifully for Subhiksha), the effect was disappointing.

Keba’s bass shows great promise, but gets too clamped with having to follow arrangements by the letter. Naveen’s solos were also a bit abbreviated. Both of these young musicians need to let go and perform with abandon to justify their choice of genre and repertoire.

For a relaxed outdoor event, the young group acquitted itself well. All four of them are greatly talented, and deserve a dedicated audience. For now, they need to spend more time with each other and evolve a sound that is tighter and more reflective of their strengths.