That Indian classical music and jazz make for good companions is no longer news. Countless ensembles have discovered that: as both forms of music depend on improvisation to different extents, the ‘Indo-jazz fusion’ genre or variants thereof has exploded in recent years. But more often than not, the hybrid produced is simply an unthinking mash up of two forms that remain distinct and parallel, even within a single band.
The Rajeev Raja Combine sticks to the typical fusion ensemble format. Chandana Bala on vocals provides the ‘Indian’ music component; band leader Rajeev Raja, on flute, is comfortable with both styles. There’s Kenneth Rebello on bass, Tala Faral on keys, Adrian D’Souza on drums, and Hitesh Dhutia on guitar.
What was quickly evident from the gig was that within this fairly standard format, all six members were talented enough to provide an interesting evening of music. Even if the music isn’t for you, the amount of fun they have on stage is sure to entertain: for instance, several times during the gig, they were grinning at each other or appreciating a bandmate’s antics.
Rajeev Raja brings a clean tone and perfect control over dynamics — the varying volumes of notes — to his flute. During solos, he built intensity carefully, piling on notes to reach a well-planned climax.
Delightfully, one also saw top-notch comping from others in the band when Rajeev took his solos. Keyboardist Tala Faral, on his frantic solos, was clearly fond of the synth tones and the ‘pitch bend’ function on the keyboard, which allows one to ‘bend’ a note without necessarily playing a new tone. The guitarist brought a typically rock sound to his solos.
Too close for comfort
For the most part, the vocals and flute — which took on the leading melodic roles — didn’t diverge at all. Except for one brief section, flute and vocals sang the same notes, creating a flatness and redundancy.
Despite the band’s clear capacity for power and speed, the music shines most in moments of restraint. For instance, during some solos, the drummer would buck expectations to stay silent at the first count, where one normally expects a sharply accented beat. There was also the stripped-bare opening of ‘Operahouse’, with intricate bass from Rebello. Or Chandana’s minimal, carefully selected vocals in ‘Slow Burn’.
The Rajeev Raja Combine is filled with individually brilliant musicians, and it’s clear they work well together. In terms of the music itself, there isn’t anything very inventive happening, but it’s pleasant enough if you’re into the jazz-fusion genre.