Artiste: Bill Evans with Ranjit Barot, Marc Guillermont and Etienne Mbappe
Venue and date: Tata Theatre, Mumbai
WITH two big acts, the past week has been a bonanza for Mumbai’s jazz lovers. On June 6, guitarist John Abercombie and his trio played at the St Andrews auditorium. Over the next two days, saxophonist Bill Evans led a brilliant quartet at Blue Frog and at the Tata Theatre.
The Abercombie concert, organised by Sandeep Chowta Projects, was barely advertised. In fact, even this blogger found out about it when a friend posted on Facebook mid-way through the show that he was enjoying it. What a miss.
In contrast, the Evans gig at Tata was well-publicised by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) through newspaper ads. Naturally, it attracted a packed house, and reports of the Blue Frog appearance the previous night were also favourable.
American Bill Evans — not to be confused with the great pianist of the same name — was joined by Indian drummer Ranjit Barot, French guitarist Marc Guillermont and Cameroonian bassist Etienne Mbappe. And for the 90 minutes or so that they shared the stage, each musician played brilliantly, both in the group interactions and in the solo passages.
All of them are, of course, highly qualified artistes. Tenor and soprano saxophonist Evans joined legendary composer Miles Davis in the early 80s, and has played with the likes of pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist John McLaughlin, trumpeter Randy Brecker and the group Medeski Martin & Wood, besides rock giants Mick Jagger, Ian Anderson and the Allman Brothers Band. His delivery had shades of sax maestros Sonny Rollins’ and Joe Henderson’s style, with a contemporary flavour.
Guillermont’s playing seemed quite influenced by rock and heavy metal, and he came up with some dazzling solos. He’s recorded an album paying tribute to rock star Frank Zappa, and has been active on both the jazz and film music fronts. And while his phrasing was very jazz-rock, he looked every bit a rock star.
Mbappe was a super-treat to watch. In what was undoubtedly one of the best bass-playing displays India has witnessed, he charmed the crowd with his deft finger movements, stunning improvisation and melodic tone. Having been a regular with both the Joe Zawinul Syndicate and John McLaughlin’s band The 4th Dimension, and also being part of many world music projects, he had a unique and graceful style, specially on those two solos after the break.
Throughout the show, Barot played wonderfully. One of India’s most accomplished drummers, he’s really moved up in the world jazz and fusion scene during the past couple of years, releasing the brilliant album ‘Bada Boom’ with an extra-talented array of guest artistes, and then touring with McLaughlin’s The 4th Dimension last year.
One didn’t get the names of all pieces, but among those announced. Evans’ compositions ‘Sweet Tea’ and ‘Snap Dragon’ and Barot’s ‘Tempest’ were fabulous. So were the opening number and the first post-break tune, which brimmed with energy and spontaneity, and the African song sung by Mbappe, which was beautifully constructed. The encore ‘Maula Re Maula’ provided a perfect wind-up, though by then, many people had already left thinking the concert had ended.
The only jarring moments, one felt, came because Barot overdid the Indian percussion ‘bols’ (spoken mnemonic syllables). They sounded nice in the beginning, but seemed a bit forced when done repeatedly. It’s become quite a fad among Indian percussionists to render these ‘bols’ impromptu, and while they appear perfect in Indian percussion and fusion jams, their sudden arrival in a jazz concert seems like an intrusion.
Overall, though, it was an absolutely memorable gig, and it’s really heartening that Mumbai keeps attracting such international jazz talent at frequent intervals, whether it is for the Jazz Utsav festival, the Ustad Allarakha tribute on February 3 or at one-off gigs.
Over the past seven or eight years, we’ve seen guitarists Scott Henderson, Allan Holdsworth, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, and Frank Gambale, saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd, singer Al Jarreau, violinist Jean Luc-Ponty, pianists-keyboardists Herbie Hancock, George Duke and Bugge Wesseltoft, bassists Stanley Clarke, Dominique di Piazza, Jonas Hellborg and Anthony Jackson, and drummers Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips and Virgil Donati, among others. And yes, McLaughlin has played a few times with the Indo-fusion outfit Remember Shakti.
On June 14, Dutch jazz trumpeter Eric Vloeimans will perform with his band Gatecrash at Blue Frog. With Sandeep Chowta Projects consistently bringing talented acts for a while, and the NCPA promising to increase its jazz fare, all this sounds exciting. If only more corporate organisations understand that there is a fairly sizeable audience for the genre in Mumbai and get more actively involved in sponsoring such shows, it will be music to the city’s jazz ears.
RATING: * Terrible; ** Hmmm… okay; *** Decent; **** Super; ***** Simply out of the world