Unlike the name, Drift from Delhi played music set in the mould of mainstream jazz

No questions this time about whether it was or wasn’t jazz: it was, unquestionably. The venue was B Flat Bar in Indiranagar, and the group performing there on April 26 was a very talented trio from Delhi called Drift.

Drift comprised Reuben Narain on drums, Pranai Gurung on guitar and Sahil Warsi on double bass. Yes, it was actually an upright double bass, not an electric bass guitar. But this one wasn’t acoustic: the sound box, the lower half, is missing, just replaced by a longish stem above a kind of stiletto on which it rests on the floor, the sound coming from an electric pick-up through an amplifier.

The trio was joined by two musicians from Bangalore. Aman Mahajan was on keyboard for nine of the 16 numbers, and on two of these Arati Rao sang. It’s of course not unusual for a jazz group to be joined by others for just one performance, but so well did the foursome and fivesome gel that Narain, more or less the leader of Drift who also took care of the announcements, made a point of remarking on how they’d had just an hour or so of working out or rehearsing earlier in the day.

Mahajan’s keyboard was a no-frills digital replacement for an acoustic piano, since he didn’t use it to mimic the sound of any other instrument, such as an electric organ. It seems to be what he’s most comfortable with, although he’s quite adaptable: not long ago I heard him, on an album of Radha Thomas, playing electric piano on one track, a tune very adaptable to jazz-rock fusion. Here, however, he had no need to switch his keyboard to the sound of any other instrument. His adaptability of course came through in the way he could manage to accompany the Drift trio through some of their own compositions, although the bulk of the numbers on which he appeared were jazz standards.

Drift, contrary to its name, steered a firm course with its music set in the mould of mainstream jazz. Ten of the 16 numbers played were Drift’s own compositions. Most of them came from a recent Drift album (their debut, if I remember what Narain said right). The rest were standards, one – “All or Nothing at All” – being a pop song absorbed into the jazz canon, one of the two pieces that Rao sang. For the standards too, there was a distinct preference for more modern material, from the pens of composers such as Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, whose “Round Midnight” is the most recorded jazz composition of all time.

A trio of guitar, bass and drums has just a chance of falling into a bit of a rut if the solos are not well distributed, and Drift was not immune to this risk. The large majority of the solo improvisations fell to the lot of Gurung, who shouldered the responsibility very ably. Narain took more solo spots than drummers usually do, and was able to do justice to them with his accomplished technique.

Some of his work was done with brushes on drums, much of his work with sticks on cymbals, and if he occasionally used sticks to strike the rims of the drums, that too boosted his credentials for versatility.

Of course the pieces on which Mahajan played helped greatly to dispel the danger of monotony in the solos; he was a tour de force on the keyboard, and alternations of solo improvisations between him and Gurung made for variety, as did the two or three rounds of call-and-response solo exchanges between Mahajan and Gurung on the one hand and Narain on the other.

Rao’s cameo was pleasing too, her scat improvisation on “All or Nothing at All” quite delightful, while on “Round Midnight” her impassioned voice proved that this gem of modern jazz is also a rare vocal gem of the genre.

All that remains is to mention Warsi’s bass. On the few numbers on which he got to step into the spotlight for a solo improvisation, he was more than equal to the task, and left one wishing he’d been called upon to do so more often. For the rest of the time, he was excellent in accompaniment if one took care to listen to him carefully. And when he went into the deep end of the instrument, the reverberations were simply heavenly. Thanks to him for choosing this rather than the more portable and easier to handle bass guitar.