The spotlight was on keyboards and guitar at a recent jazz concert
B Flat on 100 Feet Road, Indiranagar, continuing its run of regular concerts of jazz, blues or rock, recently came up with two jazz musicians whose names are new to me: Aman Mahajan on keyboards and Arjun Chandran on guitar. Both apparently local talent, they were joined by Yogendra “Tillu” Hule on drums, quite a familiar name on the Bangalore jazz scene, and the redoubtable Keith Peters from Chennai on electric bass. For most of the second half of the concert the quartet was boosted by Arati Rao on vocals.
This was the longest concert I've heard at B Flat, some two and a half hours of music separated by a 15-minute intermission. Mahajan, whom I think I saw earlier in a concert that I didn't review, possibly also at B Flat, and Chandran have apparently been playing together for some seven years now. Chandran, who emceed the concert, mentioned this by way of introduction to the duo who were the improvising heart of the concert, while deferring in his remarks to Hule's familiarity to Bangalore audiences and to the “great Keith Peters”.
The band played about a dozen pieces, whose titles were unannounced in the first half while some in the second half were named by Chandran. I did recognise two great compositions of the great pianist Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man”, the opener, and “Maiden Voyage”, and one by Hancock's great friend Wayne Shorter, “Footprints”, all these in the first half of the concert, and the encore, Chick Corea's “Spain”, for which Rao came back after having left the stage a little earlier.
This last is a terrific catchy piece with an infectious rhythm, a lovely number to end a concert on as is “Watermelon Man” for starting off with a bang. Rao did some great “scat” singing on it besides giving it a push with a slowish but lively intro, letting Mahajan and Chandran handle most of the solo improvisation during the body of the piece. Mahajan and Chandran were both in good form throughout the concert and handled the bulk of the solo improvisation.
Mahajan especially was very fluent, and since there are very few keyboardists or pianists on the scene here, his presence should be felt. Clearly the future of jazz in Bangalore is in good hands with them around, since they're probably younger than most others on the scene except for Sharik Hasan.
Peters, whom I've more than once described as being a rock-solid accompanist but who, as I've also said, generally takes few solos, continued to play his accustomed role, standing out on the couple of pieces on which he improvised. He's probably prone to hide his light as a soloist under a bushel, which is something of a pity especially on occasions such as this one, when the volume of the other musicians doesn't allow the listener to pay attention to his accompaniment and discern, as I've sometimes done, that he improvises even in his accompaniment.
Hule, although competent in accompaniment, is somewhat pedestrian. He tends not to hit the cymbals as much as the drums and hardly uses brushes instead of sticks, both habits tending to make his drumming a little louder than it could be, although in fairness to him he doesn't hit as hard as some others I've heard and remarked on.
And on the cymbals, he doesn't use the high-hat cymbal much – this is a pair of cymbals which don't need to be struck at all but are separated and brought together by a foot-operated lever, and became the main vehicle for jazz time-keeping in the 1940s.
Apart from this, another suggestion for him is to vary his percussive techniques more, using rolls on drums, occasional flurries of rim shots and a little hand-beating from time to time to extend the range of what is otherwise a somewhat monotonous sound.
All the musicians were otherwise very competent, especially Mahajan and Chandran, for whom this concert was perhaps something of a showcase, Mahajan particularly coming out with flying colours.