Jazz Yatra

Jazz Yatra
Asia’s Longest Surviving Jazz Festival

by Ashwin Panemangalore
Photos courtesy of Jewella C Miranda

Over twenty years in existence and reckoned the longest surviving Jazz Festival in Asia. the low profiled Jazz Yatra trudges on; supported by a small band of faithfuls and resurrected each year by some who care.The knight-in-arms for 2002 was the Norwegian Embassy, which brought in diverse, little known but high quality groups and lifted the festival to respectable standards of musical performance.

The most brilliant among the Norwegians.. “Come Shine”, is from a genre of inside out, post-bop jazz which is currently growing on the US West Coast. Simply put, this is modern jazz played with a continuous twist of melody and rhythm ever challenging to the Spearheaded by vocalist Live (pronounced Le-eve) Maria Roggen who took off from where Maria RoggenShiela Jordan (the pioneer of inside out singing) left it, Maria skirted around the melodic line of standards like an adept skier negotiating a series of trick posts. Supporting her was the fascinating piano, bass, drums trio who polyrhythmed their way through; each on their own rhythmic progression but all in unison. It was like a set of gymnasts who perform pyrotechnics of different kinds in midair but land each time on time, every time. A setting like this through familiar songs like “My Funny Valentine” “Lets fall in Love”, Shiela Jordan’s “Lost & Found”, “April in Paris”, “Ella’s Mr. musician and the listener. Paganini” and the ubiquitous “My Favorite Things” were lapped up by an audience who then bought up every CD on sale, minutes after the show.

The other super group showcased the reputed veteran Karin Krog. Karin has been in the business over 25 years and it showed in the sultriness of her voice, her unhurried style and the treatment of each piece Accompanied by British maestro John Surman who restricted himself to soprano sax (his more familiar baritone being inappropriate in a small group format) and an inventive guitarist Jacob Young, Krog swept the audience through ‘Where Flamingoes Fly’, ‘I’ll be Seeing You’, the original ‘Canto Mine’, the rare ‘Going to a Birdie’ and the sentimental “Every Time We say Good Bye”, Karin’s vocalization was like rich old Sauvignon mellowed with age. Surman’s unique, expressive soprano was a tremendous foil to the sensitivity of Jacob Young’s guitar work.Not to be outdone was the steel stringed acoustic bass of Terje Gewelt which added soul to solid body and value to the eager listener.

The third quality group that followed was the Knut Riisnaes Quartet. Knut adeptly wielded the tenor alternately blowing. Coltrane and Joe Henderson. What Knut lacked in originality he made up in technique. But then high technique musicians who play Bart Van LierTrane are in abundance. Backed by the same trio that supported Krog, the all finale with Krog, Surman & Riisnaes brought the house down.

The fourth Norwegian group.. the Ytre Suloens ensemble showed that Jazz is not all art form. Creativity and complexity were thrown to the winds for some happy New Orleans swing.It may have left the purists shaking their head but it had the folks in the aisles swaying and clapping.

The German, Dieter Kohnlein Quartet came back to perform Jazz of the cerebral variety and typified the Europeans approach to the music. Schooled musicians who revel in complexities, variants on known styles and unknown compositions, but always with uncompromising technique. Volker Schlott showed he is a complete master of the soprano sax producing a variety of sounds seldom heard. The complex harmonic and rhythmic progressions through free passages on standard melodies showed where contemporary Jazz is moving; creative, thought provoking but listenable.

George Brooks, veteran tenorist has carried the baton of Indo Jazz synergy to new levels. Under the tutelage of the great innovator George Russell, Brooks has forged a path to himself down this route. Brooks has a variety of published work to his credit and been commended in ‘Downbeat’. His performance on the opening day with the Louis Banks ensemble was a standout. He was well supported by the talented younger sibling of Alla Rakha… Taufiq Qureshi and the newgen mridangam artiste Parthasarathy.

In stark contrast to the Europeans the extroverted American Roseanna Vitro sang straight standards in a well packaged set with the requisite oomph. showmanship and humour.No melody twisting for her.What Roseanna lacks in distinctiveness and musical craftsmanship is made up by her stage presence.

Lydia Van DamThe Lydia Van Dam Quintet a Dutch group of high class with a singer one would go miles to hear was given unjust treatment… just 40 minutes.Rupak Kulkarni for all his preparation was allowed just one piece.However, Joe Pereira pulled a long rope for his comic act, his dance music (at a Jazz Concert!) and his amateur outfit sporting sparkling brass. and little else.The organizers need to rethink their time management and programming strategy when they plan the next Yatra.

They also need to consider encouragement to young and veteran professional musicians (there is no dearth) to take part on stage and in workshops and a marketing build up through FM attracting the fringe listener into the exciting world of Jazz where, once hooked, you are guaranteed to stay……for life, in preference to any other music form.

Ashwin Panemangalore is an avid jazz listener and collector of music and memorablia over the last 30 years. He works as an Executive Director of an Indian Group of companies which has business interests in the USA.