The best for last

Well distributed Solo improvisations. Photo: Jazzebel

Well distributed Solo improvisations. Photo: Jazzebel  

Rajeev Raja’s concert though short was a seamless blend of Hindustani and Jazz

In the opinion of yours truly, the best piece in Rajeev Raja’s concert at B Flat last week was ‘Peace’, and he showed good sense to keep it for the last. Except that he didn’t budget for a demand for an encore, which was a bit of a let-down after ‘Peace’.

But first things first. Raja is a flautist who plays both the Indian bamboo flute, called bansuri on his album, and the Western metal flute, or concert flute. At the concert in question, he was in the company of Chandana Bala singing, Hitesh Dhutia on guitar, JD – that was his name on the concert blurb, that’s how he’s named on the CD, and that’s how Raja calls him! – on electric bass, Vinayak Netke on tabla and Vaibhav Wavikar on drums. The concert was called Cosmic Chant like the album, which the event was meant to launch.

On the album, incidentally, ‘Peace’ is actually the last track, but since the CD has only 40 minutes of music, the band had to pad out the concert with, initially, two tracks from its next album, and in extremis in the shape of the encore demand, a third peep into its future.

Actually “Off-centre” wasn’t such a bad number to end on, it’s just the comparison with “Peace” that had it coming off second best. Altogether, the 11 eleven pieces made for a shortish concert – about an hour and a half – and the audience had to be pacified with Raja telling it that these 11 were the only pieces the band had practised!

That’s not the kind of excuse that goes down well with jazz aficionados, who’re used to hearing musicians make up tunes on the fly apart from improvising extensively. For this was a jazz concert, even if, once again, “hyphenated” jazz. Once again it was “Indo-jazz fusion”, a blend of jazz and Indian classical music, more Hindustani this time, as could be guessed from the presence of Netke on tabla. Bala’s singing, which featured on all but a couple of the numbers, was the highlight of the Hindustani aspect of the music while blending seamlessly with the jazz tunes and rhythms.

Raja actually used the metal flute on most of the pieces, laying aside his bansuri after the first number, ‘Drone’, and not picking it up again as far as I can remember. His melodic lines were very good, especially so on “Mulligan’s mood” (one of the purely instrumental numbers), which Raja says he composed several decades ago while studying for his exams at Bangalore’s St. Joseph’s College. Set in a brisk tempo and named for the jazz baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan whom Raja was listening to when the tune came to him, it had solo improvisations on both guitar and flute.

The solo improvisations were generally well distributed around the band, Bala’s vocals evidently providing several since most of her singing was improvisation on Raja’s melodies, while JD and Dhutia both pitched in often. There were occasional exchanges between Raja and Bala, while Netke and Wavikar had some exchanges on ‘Grunge’ and ‘Peace’. On the former, which Raja warned us was a very rock-influenced number (and on which Wavikar used a heavy rock beat), the two percussionists also had exchanges with Raja. On “Peace”, Netke and Wavikar punctuated their exchanges with solos of their own while Raja and Bala did likewise with flute and vocals on this number. Netke, incidentally, suffered from an audibility gap most of the time though of course he was clearly heard on the solos. Since he was playing a little softer than the others, he should have been miked up a lot more throughout the concert.

About halfway through the proceedings Raja’s mother was called on to the stage and asked to formally release the album, followed by a photo-op of mother and son holding up the CD to the cheers of the audience, strongest in the large extended family group of which the mother formed the focus, but emanating from the rest of us hoi-polloi too. Surely with so much going for him among those facing the stage, Raja should have expected repeated demands for encores and paced them out to end with the ace in his deck.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 2:47:39 PM |

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