Some smooth jazz unfolds in an unlikely place, but the whole little concerto was enigmatic
Put on any Brice Wassy track and you can attribute the goose pimples on your back to pulses being revealed from the most primal recesses within you. The renowned Cameroonian drummer, also known as ‘King of the 6/8,’ is often backed by a mysterious Indian-origin, French keyboardist named Dondieu Divin, who recently played in Bangalore at an unlikely spot — a boutique garments store at The Leela Palace.
Upon entering the building, you’d barely feel the music, obscured by a level. Down the escalator, The Plantation House is playing host to fewer than 50 people, with wild, afro-beat inspired jazz blazing every corner of the store. Passersby stop to stare and a father dances with a child on his shoulder. The performance comprises Jazz standards rendered to fit variations of the 6/ 8 rhythm. Accompanying the enigmatic keyboardist are three Chennai-based musicians: Maarten Visser on saxophone, Naveen Kumar on bass guitar, and Jeoraj George on drums.
“Would you like to say something?” Visser asks Divin and someone shouts, “Speech!” He says his English is not so good, but decides to give a speech the African way and so they go on playing. On ‘Footprints,’ Visser takes off into a bebop-ish flight as Naveen and Jeoraj hold the rhythm and Divin steers the show with an invisible hand. Half way through the song, a power cut slashes the sound.
Leaving just a small pause to wave at fate, Visser and Jeoraj go on jamming in the dark. When the current is back, the keys and bass hold back till when their re-entry is natural and it could have all been planned. “I know there’s 6/8 in India — Dappankuthu, but it’s not like this,” Divin finally says. “1—2 —1-2-3-4…”. ‘One note Samba’ simulates a racy 60s spy thriller. Rim shots roll like a telegram while the keys are running hurriedly away from something. It abruptly shifts into a warm, luminous, swinging section as though remembering something pleasant, but glancing back, it dashes on down the alleyway.
Divin now gathers a whole horn section on his second keyboard, and the next track sounds like a Fela Kuti arrangement. When the drum solo seems almost irretrievably lost, he looks over to Visser and shimmers a few notes. The latter catches on, exploding into a saxophone solo. Certain high notes make it sound like a trumpet, and then he broods on low multiphonics and somewhere in the middle slap-tongues through a whole section.
“I’ve played a lot of jazz before, but this has by far been the most challenging show for me,” says Jeoraj, who has played with some of the biggest names in Indian music. “African rhythms are extremely complicated but it needs to be played with just the feel. It comes from years of listening.”
“At times, we’d individually be making no sense but he’d hold it all together. His level of complexity is something else,” says Naveen about the keyboardist, who has spent the last four years at Auroville. “There must be between 30 to 50 serious jazz musicians in the country,” Visser notes, “but everyone’s doing other things to sustain. You can’t live off Jazz.”