Friday, July 23, 2010

Giant steps

Madhav Chari, jazz pianist, performed with an all-Chennai trio -- consisting of himself, Naveen Kumar (bass) and Jeoraj George (drums) yesterday at the Museum Theatre in Chennai. I have written about Madhav before, when he performed with a French rhythm section [1,2] (who also back him on his recent CD, "Parisian thoroughfares"); and had previewed the concert here. Suffice it to say that it lived up to its prior billing. In an e-mailed announcement Madhav had declared it to be "absolutely the very first international standard jazz group from India since the incpetion of jazz in the country in 1927." It was. He said "We play jazz music: thats what we do." That's what they did. Over half of the programme was of Madhav's own compositions, beginning with "Tales of the south" (a reference, he said, both to New Orleans and to Chennai) and ending with "Blues for Havana". In addition they threw in pieces by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Cole Porter, and Sherwin/Maschwitz's "A nightingale sang in Berkeley square" (which Madhav played unaccompanied). They nailed all of them. Jeoraj took several drum solos, while Naveen played extended bass solos on Madhav's "Rejoice" and "Blues for Havana".

Madhav repeatedly said that the band is still feeling its way and is not really a mature outfit, which is why they chose not to play Ellington. But if there were flubs, I did not notice. The Parker was taken at breakneck speed, Porter's "Love for Sale" and Madhav's "Tango sentimental" were rhythmically very complex, and the chord changes in Coltrane's "Giant Steps" are a challenge for the best musicians. The band sailed through all of them.

But almost equally entertaining was Madhav's patter before the songs. He declared Chennai the most advanced city for percussion in Asia (previously he had said that though Chennai audiences may not understand jazz, they understand music better than anyone). He has a dim view of what has long passed for "jazz" in this country (perpetrated by people like Louis Banks), and took several potshots at the elites of Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi; he challenged anyone from those cities to measure themselves against Naveen and Jeoraj; he conceded that the sizeable audience yesterday (well over 400) may be achievable for jazz in Kolkata, but declared that there is no jazz drummer in that city who can keep time, so Chennai is ahead on that count.

Towards the end, he recounted a lady at a recent party asking him why he blew his own trumpet so much, and asked the audience (to resounding cheers): "Well, if I have the greatest jazz band in the history of India, am I supposed to keep quiet about it?"

Indeed, a few years ago I marvelled that there was a jazz pianist in this "conservative" city who was the equal of the best in New York. Now I find that there is an entire world-class jazz piano trio in this city -- but it now seems exciting rather than surprising. My opinion is that Madhav really does not need to blow his own trumpet. His piano, and his new rhythm section, are eloquent enough.


km said...

Any YT videos of the gig? (I'm especially curious about that "Love for sale" performance...)

Rahul Siddharthan said...

km - I tried recording "Giant Steps" on my mobile but it's rather poor quality. Will find out if anyone else recorded it (I won't be surprised if it was recorded from the soundboard, but don't know if they'll want to distribute it).

Jai_C said...

Re. Mr. Chari

I know next to nothing about music, let alone jazz music. I dont know this person either and am relying entirely on this series of posts. I should be keeping my trap shut :-) But...

Constantly referring to oneself as international-standard and world class does not strike me as the best way to go about being recognized as world-class.

The closest I can recollect from my limited exposure are some American rappers who seemed to me to be pretty full of themselves. Some of them were widely recognized also and perhaps counted as "world class". In that sense, Mr.Chari is probably in class company.

Why am I even commenting on this? I cant figure it out, but I think the digs at other Indian metros etc. are clear indicators that Mr.Chari wants to be in the news and talked about, even by people who have little idea of the subject.

From these readings, he seems to want buzz and I'm giving it to him :-)


Rahul Siddharthan said...

I should be keeping my trap shut :-)


If rappers are the only artists you have encountered with a high self-assessment, your experience is indeed limited. But unlike many others, Madhav's self-assessment is spot on.

Jai_C said...

Cool. I do have some exposure to Indian classical music though I understand little there either.

I have internalized the (possibly faux?) humility of various greats who kept referring to sadhana and God's grace and gift and come across, at least to me, as projecting ordinariness or groundedness or whatever.

In ways I dont clearly understand this amplified to me, their greatness- that I've already conceded I cant technically judge anyway :-)


Rahul Siddharthan said...

I have internalized the (possibly faux?) humility of various greats

I'm guessing you haven't met any of them in real life.

Some Indian classical musicians are genuinely humble, but they're the exception in my experience. And of course, few would proclaim themselves the greatest in India unless they really played a unique instrument. But then, many did pioneer their instruments and built their careers on the fact -- from shehnai and santoor to mandolin and saxophone. One named his modified guitar after himself ("Mohan Veena") though he certainly didn't invent that instrument.

Madhav certainly wouldn't call himself the greatest in New York, if he lived there. Being the best jazz musician in India is a comparatively modest achievement...

ys said...

:) Am not an informed jazz listener - will try this group soon!

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