Two concerts in the city drew listeners to the fine nuances of jazz
The central quadrangle of Citi Centre is not what you’d call acoustically excellent, what with the muted roar of hundreds of shoppers echoing through it constantly. But for a brief hour recently, it was transformed into a world-class concert hall, echoing instead with the smooth notes of the saxophone and clarinet, and the deep thrumming of the double bass and the bassoon.
Two jazz bands from the Netherlands came together as one — the Tony Overwater Trio (saxophone, double bass and drums) and the Calefax Reed Quintet (oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon) — in celebration of the Ellington Suites, a series of compositions by jazz great Duke Ellington in the 1960s inspired by his travels in South Asia (particularly India), the Middle East and the Far East.
The result truly was, as Ivar Berix of the Calefax quintet put it, “an exchange on several different levels — of culture and of inspiration.”
For these musicians, it was a chance to revisit the places that had inspired the Ellington Suites, and in a sense, complete the tour that was cut short back in 1963 following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “It feels a bit like a historic event because he never had a chance to perform these here — he wrote them after returning to the U.S.,” said Ivar, lounging casually on the makeshift stage before the performance (they all seemed remarkably relaxed, in spite of delays in their meticulous sound checks, the heat and the milling crowd). “And we play not only his compositions, but also newer works of composers who’ve been inspired by his music.”
For the surprisingly ready audience that had waited patiently for the performance to begin, it was clear that the lively, lilting jazz filling the quadrangle struck a chord. It was fascinating to watch the railings of the three floors above fill with curious listeners, and a growing crowd — young parents with their children, groups of teenagers, grandmothers and grandfathers alike — stop to listen around the stage, heads bopping and bodies swaying (one elderly lady in a traditional sari and a bun was even seen putting thalam in time rapturously).
The music itself was mood-uplifting and instantly appealing, full of delightful melodic lines, infectious beats and constant variation. The numbers ranged from cheerful and upbeat, such as ‘The Bluebird of Delhi’ (part of the Far East Suite) to a sultry and hypnotic Middle-East-inspired piece by a Lebanese composer, and a softly romantic ballad by Oliver Boekhoorn, one of the band members.
By the end of the hour, several listeners had squatted down comfortably around the stage, and the final number, a full and energetic version of ‘Aaj Ki Raat’ from Don (“Carnatic classical is too hard for us!”), was met with loud, sustained cheers and applause. A number of audience members stayed behind to chat with the friendly band members after the concert. As an exercise in cultural exchange and music appreciation, this concert organised by Landmark was definitely a success.
The bands also performed at the Taj Fisherman’s Cove during their visit to Chennai.
French jazz guitarist Sylvain Luc gives solo performances and also works with famous French musicians, but is better known as the mainstay of Trio Sud. The two others who are part of the musical trio are Jean Marc Jaffet (double bass) and André Ceccarelli (drummer). True to its name, the three-member group is composed of musicians from southern (‘sud’ means south) France.
Trio Sud regularly goes on tours to other countries, but mostly without Ceccarelli. Because the drummer skips tours that involve flying. Says Luc, “He travels anywhere by bus or train, but stays off air travel. He is afraid of flying.”
In Ceccarelli’s absence, drummer Pascal Rey completes the trio. This does not disturb the band’s basic philosophy — serving jazz with a flavour that is unique to southern France. “I come from Bayonne (part of Basque county), a town in south-western France. Rey comes from Toulouse, also in the south-western region. Jaffet comes from Nice, located in south-eastern France,” says Luc.
Recently, the Luc-Jaffet-Rey combination wove their unique magic beside the pool at Taj Coromandel. Helped by an inky-dark sky and the band’s avant-garde style, the audience were engulfed by a sense of exotica. (The concert was one of Alliance Francaise’s efforts to make its Jazz Club interesting. With resourceful collaborators, it holds jazz concerts across the country.)
When Luc, Jaffet and Rey played compositions from the band’s popular albums – ‘Trio Sud’, ‘Sylvain Luc Trio Sud’ and ‘Trio Sub Young and Fine’ – they sounded as if only one person was making music.
“As we blend so well, you can’t escape that illusion,” says Luc. Achieving this blend could not have been easy, as each of these musicians lends his skills to other groups with different musical orientations and goals.
“Even within southern France, there is great musical diversity,” says Luc. Jaffet’s hometown Nice is close to the Italian border, while Luc’s hometown Bayonne is close to the Spanish border. This fact is reflected in their musical styles.
“Trio Sud is the result of working diverse musical influences into one body,” says Luc.
Trio Sud’s success is largely due to Luc’s musical genius and vision. Clearly more popular than any of his team mates, Luc is widely respected as a composer and arranger. The guitarist is equally skilful in playing the cello and the violin.
For that, he thanks his parents. “My music lessons began at age four, because my parents were determined to make a musician of me.”