Friday, November 17, 2006

High-energy jazz

The trouble with high expectations is that you generally come away disappointed. But not this time. Madhav Chari promised a "high-energy" performance (previewed here) and boy did he deliver. My expectations were high, but the standards of all three musicians were evidently even higher. They opened with a rousing "Our delight" (Dameron) and a more sedate "How insensitive" (Jobim), and went through a bunch of other standards (including Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfares"), some of Madhav's own compositions ("Elegy"/"Rejoice", a tribute to Elvin Jones), and a highly-rearranged "Yesterday" (Beatles) with gusto. Liberated by the presence of a top-notch rhythm section (Fabien Marcoz, bass and Mourad Benhammou, drums), Madhav played jaw-dropping solos at break-neck speed. Marcoz and Benhammou kept up reliably. Benhammou seemed a tad heavy-handed at times, but was clearly listening to Madhav carefully. I haven't been at such an exhilarating concert since hearing Uri Caine at the Village Vanguard nearly three years ago (luckily, those shows were recorded).

In fact, Madhav's playing reminded me a bit of Caine: robust rather than delicate, complex harmonies and structure, often spectacular, always fully in control. Madhav is capable of being poetic too -- at his WorldSpace concert he played one of the best versions of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" that I've ever heard -- but that wasn't much on display last night, except paradoxically right at the end, when he segued the thunderous last piece into a delicate blues (during which Benhammou did rather interesting things with his drums) -- ending with a whisper not a bang.

The audience loved it all. It was a much larger crowd than at his poorly-publicised WorldSpace concert -- not house full but quite substantial. (Which is impressive, since there was another concert elsewhere simultaneously, a jazz-fusion thing with George Brooks, Kai Eckhart, Kala Ramnath and others, promoted by the city's leading newspaper. On another day I'd have gone there. In a city that sees 3 or 4 jazz concerts a year, I wonder why the cultural bodies can't share timetables in advance to avoid such clashes.)

From here they move to Bangalore (today, Nov. 17, 8 pm, Alliance Francaise), Kolkata (Nov 18, 7:30 pm, Princeton Club), Pune (Nov 19, 7 pm, Mazda Hall), and Delhi (Nov 21, 6:30 pm, IIC). Passes needed in Delhi (available at AF), entry free everywhere else. If you're there, be there.

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