Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for December, 2012

Dinosaurus Rox: The year of the aging rockstar


dino rock 3

(Image taken from: CoolClips.com)

AAH, the rock dinosaur! The favourite target of rock journalists who’ve never held a guitar, and of con-‘noise’-urs who can’t differentiate between A, B or C. Chords, not alphabets.

What are their grouses against these dinosaurs? Lots, actually. One, the history-minded critics point out that these dudes have been playing for 30, 40 or 50 years, or even since the 16th century, without showing any signs of retiring. Two, their snobbish hate club would sneer: “I’ve seen him regularly from 1967 to 1977, at all the venues in the world. He lost it after that but is still playing today to make money.” Finally, their poetry-minded foes might crib: “He is bloated, bald and broke. His voice sounds like a croak. He’s high from all that coke. His very existence is a joke.”

On top of that, these aging rockstars themselves hate being called dinosaurs. They still think they’re 17, going on 18.

Whatever, the anti-dinosaur anthro-apology club would be eating their words of hiss-dom today. Sadly for them, 2012 belonged to the rock dinosaur. Whatever their shape, size or senility, this breed of musicians has delivered some of the most creative music in the leap year gone by, reaching levels untouched by musicians 40 years younger.

Let’s begin with the oldest. Leonard Cohen, now 78. This Maharaja of Montreal isn’t R-O-C-K in the strictest sense, or in any sense, but he’s a dinosaur all right. In fact, he’s probably been called a dinosaur for 35 of the 45 years he’s played music. But being a man of old ideas, he released an absolute gem called ‘Old Ideas’. His voice sounded like he had a bout of chronic bronchitis, but how well it suited those songs! He’s been the world’s second-best singer-songwriter, after all.

That brings us to the world’s best singer-songwriter, outside of the Beatles. Robert Allen Zimmerman is what his parents named him, and Bob Dylan is what he named himself. At 71, he came out with this masterpiece called ‘Tempest’, filled with songs about the Titanic disaster, John Lennon, tyrants and murderers. His voice, to quote my earlier review, sounds like a cross between a morning brush gargle, an attack of whooping cough and bluesman Howling Wolf’s whisky-spruced wail. But lyrically and otherwise, this was a great set of songs, with simply no signs of adult Dylan-quency. He got five-star reviews in most publications, and these ratings definitely weren’t bought Bollywood-style.

Next, we come to two musicians born in 1947. That would make them 65 years young. The first is Carlos Santana. His last album was a guitar-based cover version catastrophe, and the previous three used every possible guest artiste existing on the scene. This time, he decided to do an instrumental album using influences as diverse as rock, jazz, Latin American and Cuban forms, European classical, Spanish flamenco and Hungarian folk melodies. Not as confusing as it sounds, and in fact, very listenable.  Appropriately, he named it ‘Shape Shifter’.

Carlos also did two rocking shows in India. Yes, he doesn’t sing or prance around like his fellow dinosaurs and stands endlessly in the same position and pose with his guitar, but the energy he created with his younger band was unbelievable. And talking of energetic gigs, wannabe dinosaur Axl Rose gave Bangalore, Mumbai and Gurgaon some of their most memorable nights, 15 years after the world had written him off, and after his band had Slashed off the name of its famous guitarist. At his show, Axl packed a paunch, and packed a punch too.

Coming back to the 1947-born rockers, there’s Ian Anderson. Never too old to rock n’ roll., Mr Jethro Tull has done three visits of India over the past decade just to earn some beer money, and each time his live singing went from verse to averse and worse. Now, he had to gall to do a sequel to his 1972 classic ‘Thick As A Brick’. And hats off to him, he’s done a really good job. It may take 15, 25 or even 105 listens to get the hang of ‘Thick As A Brick 2’, but once you crack it, you just feel like playing it again and again. One only hopes he doesn’t get so excited at the response that he does a Part 3 too. At least not for the next 40 years.

That brings us to the Sultan of String. At 63, Mark Knopfler is definitely not in dire straits musically. Like Anderson, he too did a very gutsy thing ― release a 20-song double album called ‘Privateering’ in an era when many current-day musicians can’t write three good songs in a single album. Horror of horrors, not one of the 20 songs was off the ‘Mark’. Each one had its own beauty, whether it was styled in the blues, Celtic music, southern rock, jazz or country. And his voice really dino-soars to newer heights.

Next, we had The Boss. Bruce Springsteen is still as ‘Born in the USA’ as he was when he entered this world 63 years ago. This year, he released lucky-13-set of songs on the album ‘Wrecking Ball’, which was less of a wreck and gave you more of a ball. Songs like ‘Jack of All Trades’ and ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ proved that Bruce is still Almighty.

The list of rejuvenated 60s-plus teenagers is endless. And the titles of their albums couldn’t have been more appropriate. Van Morrison, one of the most distinct voices in music, released ‘Born to Sing: No Plan B’. The Irishman attracted no ire for his effort, and actually received rave reviews. American band Lynyrd Skynyrd released ‘Last of a Dying Breed’. Truly said, but sadly, the album wasn’t released in India because the music label didn’t expect any great sales. Anyway, the music industry is a dying breed and not these bands. Aerosmith released ‘Music from Another Dimension’, though in this case, their earlier dimension sounded far better.

Forever young Neil Young continued his practice of releasing an album every year, with ‘Psychedelic Pill’. Kiss, who added glamour to the glam-rock movement with their unique costumes and make-up, released ‘Monster’ ― the make-up was definitely needed to hide what they now look like. Canadian monsters Rush released ‘Clockwork Angels’ with the intention of showing they are in no rush to stop. Scared of getting into any more major drunken brawls in the studio, AC/ DC and Iron Maiden put out live albums. Out of the blue, Van Halen woke up after 14 years to release ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’. Quite a scary truth, actually.

There were these golden jubilee affairs too. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Dylan all celebrated 50 years of something connected with their existence in the music business. Eric Clapton did some charity shows to raise funds for a few people including himself, but while he remained relatively silent this year, he’s vowed to make up in 2013 when he celebrates 50 years of a career in music.

Besides playing like teenyboppers in their live shows, the Stones released a greatest hits compilation ― after brainstorming over its title for the past 25 years, they finally zeroed in on a name as creative as ‘GRRR!’ Worse, since Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were too scared to appear on the cover, they chose an equally handsome gorilla.

The surviving members of the Beatles did their best to stay in the news. Ringo Starr reminded the world that he too played with the band, by releasing an album called ‘Ringo 2012’. Needless to say, it wasn’t a patch on ‘Ringo 1962’.

And finally, we come to  the legendary Macca. At 70, Paul McCartney continued to do live performances and hobnob with the glitterati, besides releasing the album ‘Kisses on the Bottom’. He’s going strong, and we won’t be surprised if he’s begun writing ‘When I’m 84’.

Clearly, 2012 was the year of the aging rockstar. And, despite the odd exceptions here, there and everywhere, one can’t blame them for producing some great music. It’s in their blood after all, and they promise to get even better. Shudder!

Generation X-Rated should definitely be inspired by the rock dinosaurs. And from the buzz we hear, Justin Bieber has already taken the first step, by fixing up an appointment with a plastic surgeon so that he can look 70 years old. The issue is: No matter what any doctor can do to his body, they can never do anything to change that ghastly voice or music of his. These kiddos may just go ‘Gaga’ by dressing weirdly and getting their pretty faces printed in the tabloids.

Instruments from India – 4/ Sarangi


sarangi1sarangi2

IN September, I had begun a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The aim was two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various Indian instruments offer.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mention the leading performers in each style. However, while I have tried to name all the main musicians, the lists mentioned are by no means exhaustive or complete. In all parts of the series, I shall use a similar format to maintain uniformity, and some portions on the concert structure may be repeated verbatim if needed.

The first three parts of the series talked about the violin, sitar and bamboo flute, respectively. This month, we feature the sarangi and other similar instruments.

ON December 18, I attended a tribute to sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan at Mumbai’s Ravindra Natya Mandir. The event was held to mark his first death anniversary, which was on November 27.

The concert featured tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain, his brother Fazal Qureshi, the Salim-Sulaiman duo, violinist Deepak Pandit, singer Akriti Kakar and Sultan Khan’s son Sabir Khan. Though the programme started an hour late, and the compere went on and on, it served its main purpose.

Sultan Khan (picture on right) has been one of India’s foremost sarangi players. His association with Zakir Hussain and many younger musicians, and his singing efforts like ‘Piya Basanti’, have made him popular among the newer generation. However, the credit for actually popularising the sarangi as a classical instrument goes to the great Pandit Ram Narayan (picture on left). The other well-known player is Ustad Sabri Khan.

We shall talk of other sarangi players later, but let’s begin with a description and brief history of the instrument. We shall talk of its use in various genres, and then discuss similar instruments.

Description and history: The sarangi is a bowed, short-necked string instrument that is used in Indian, Nepali and Pakistani music. It is said to be the Indian instrument that sounds closest to the human voice.

The name comes from the Hindi words sau (hundred) and rangi (colours), though another theory is that it’s derived from the Sanskrit words saar (summary) and ang (body).

Though it was originally used in north Indian and Nepali folk music, it found increasing use in classical music following the efforts of Ram Narayan, who even elevated it to the status of a solo instrument. Today, it is also used in Sufi music, ghazals and even in international music.

Hindustani music: In Hindustani music, the sarangi often plays the role of an accompanying instrument, though musicians like Ram Narayan, Sultan Khan and Sabri Khan have used it for solo rendition with tabla accompaniment.

In the former role, the instrument is used as an accompaniment in a vocal concert, or in a tabla solo recital, where the sarangi player provides the melodic mood and the lehra (repeated phrases while the percussionist is improvising). Though many vocalists later preferred the harmonium as an accompanying instrument, purists often say the sarangi sounds better because of its closeness to the human voice.

If the sarangi player is doing a solo concert, he usually begins with the rendition of a classical raga, the melodic mode used in Indian music. The first piece comprises a three-part movement beginning with the slow alaap, increasing tempo with the jod and reaching a faster climax with the jhala. Here, there is no tabla accompaniment.

After the alaap-jod-jhala sequence, the instrumentalist plays two or three compositions in the same raga, with percussion accompaniment. These are known as gats or bandishes. Once this first raga is over, the sarangi may play another raga, or may play certain light ragas, folk tunes or devotional pieces, depending on the time allotted.

As mentioned before, Ram Narayan is singularly credited with elevating the status of the sarangi to a solo instrument. In fact, once he established himself as a solo artiste, he practically gave up playing the role of an accompanist, though he continued to play in films. He helped popularise the instrument abroad through his visits to Afghanistan and China, and then to western countries.

While Ram Narayan’s son Brij Narayan opted for the sarod, his daughter Aruna Narayan Kalle and grandson (Brij’s son) Harsh Narayan are active on the sarangi circuit.

Sultan Khan represented the Indore gharana, and was closely associated with taking the instrument to other parts of the world, through his participation in fusion experiments. His son Sabir and nephew Dilshad are taking that branch forward.

Sabri Khan represented the Senia gharana, and has also played a major role in popularising the instrument in the West, besides doing the duet with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. His son Kamal Sabri and grandson Sohail Khan also give regular concerts.

Some of the other sarangi players have included Hanuman Prasad Mishra, Mamman Khan, Nathu Khan, Sagiruddin Khan, Abdul Lateef Khan and Shakoor Khan. Those popular today include Dhruba Ghosh, son of tabla maestro Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, Ramesh Mishra, a disciple of sitar great Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ikram Khan, a student of Sultan Khan.

Besides pure music, the sarangi is also used as an embellishment in dIndian classical dance, specially in Kathak.

Hindi film music: The sarangi has been regularly played in Hindi film music by Ram Narayan, Sultan Khan, Sabri Khan and others. In fact, Ram Narayan originally came to Mumbai to play in film music. He was a regular with OP Nayyar, and also played with Naushad in Mughal-e-Azam and Ganga Jamuna, Madan Mohan in Adalat and Laxmikant-Pyarelal in Milan.

For his part, Sultan Khan lent his voice to many Hindi films, including the well-known ‘Albela sajan aayo re’ in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, besides songs in Maqbool, Jab We Met and Parzania, and often used sarangi in these film songs. He played the sarangi in the films Gandhi and Heat and Dust, and in the Tamil film Yogi.

More recently, A R Rahman got in Dilshad Khan to play the sarangi in the Rockstar song ‘Tum Ko’.

Experimental music, fusion and others: Some of the best known uses of the sarangi in fusion are Sultan Khan’s work in the Tabla Beat Science project, featuring Zakir Hussain, producer Bill Laswell and others, and the album Bhoomi, with Salim and Sulaiman. His album Piya Basanti, with singer Chitra, also made good use of the instrument

Among the pop groups, Delhi band Advaita has made prominent use of the sarangi through its member Suhail Yusuf Khan on its albums Grounded in Space and The Silent Sea.

International music:  American alternative band Blind Melon was one of the first to use the sarangi on its song ‘Sleepyhouse’ from its 1992 self-titled debut. But the world noticed it instantly when popular rock band Aerosmith got in Ramesh Mishra to play on the song ‘Taste of India’ from the 1997 album ‘Nine Lives’.

Other well-known instances are the progressive rock band Tool, on the song ‘Reflection’, and producer Robert Miles, on the album ‘Organik’.

Other similar bowed string instruments: Though the violin also falls in a similar broad category, it has a technique, tone and popularity of its own, and has been featured earlier in this series. Somewhat lesser-known instruments related to the sarangi include the esraj, dilruba and sarinda.

The esraj is primarily played in the states of West Bengal and Tripura, and  also in Bangladesh. It is used extensively in Rabindra Sangeet from Bengal. While well-known exponents have been the late Ranadhir Ray and Buddhadeb Das, it was used by spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy while meditating.

In contrast, the dilruba is played mainly in north India, and has been used in Sikh religious music. Ravi Shankar played it in the early stages of his career, as a teenager, and in the 90s, Rahman utilised it in the songs ‘Dil Se’ and ‘Vande Mataram’.

The sarinda uses a different kind of bow and is played in a lot of folk music from Rajasthan, Assam and Tripura, besides Baul music of Bengal. It is primarily used as an accompaniment for folk singers.

Sadly, the esraj and dilruba have declined in popularity, almost becoming extinct, and the sarinda is used in limited forms of music. The sarangi, for its part, has a lesser number of exponents compared to the sitar, sarod or bansuri, and it’s now left for the younger players to carry it forward. It is one of the most beautiful sounding and intense Indian instruments, of course, and that’s what makes it so special.

Carrying forward the legacy of Pandit Ravi Shankar


ravi shankar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk60ObnbIOk

(In the YouTube link above) Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allarakha at the Monterey pop festival in 1967

A lot has been written in the mainstream media about sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar following his sad demise on December 11. Most articles have played touching tributes to India’s biggest musical ambassador, and I personally was honoured to be asked to contribute by Mid Day newspaper, where I once worked. For those who haven’t seen that piece, the link is attached below.

However, it was shocking to see one newspaper reproduce a critical and controversial article published by a magazine some 12 years ago, on Ravi-ji’s relationship with his first wife Annapurna Devi. Whatever happened in his personal life, this was certainly not the time to rake up old issues, that too with something that was printed so long ago. I was at a wedding reception a few days ago, where many musicians attended, and a lot of them felt this was in very poor taste.

As mentioned in my newspaper article, Ravi-ji has done a lot to promote the cause and popularity of Indian classical music, both within the country and abroad. I won’t get into details again. What I would emphasise, however, is that rather than picking faults with his personal life, it is important for everyone from the musicians, the media, show organisers and even ardent fans to do their bit to carry his legacy and musical ideals forward.

Indian classical music, though extremely popular among its followers, still has a restricted audience compared to Hindi film music or western pop music. Ravi Shankar spared no effort in helping newer audiences understand the genre. I was lucky to have interviewed him five times, and spoken to him over the telephone on a few occasions. The first time, he charmingly tried to gauge my understanding of the genre, so that he could choose how to phrase what he wanted to say. He would explain the technicalities and tell stories in such a way that even lay listeners would be captivated.

A large section of today’s youngsters are unfortunately not exposed to so much Indian classical music, and prefer rock, dance music or Hindi film music. Though some listen to fusion music, purely classical concerts by and large attract the older generation, whether it is the north Indian Hindustani style or south Indian Carnatic style.

While musicians are doing their bit, the media should be more involved in educating the masses, specially the younger lot. Music channels barely feature this genre, and though newspapers carry interviews of musicians and listings of concerts, the amount of coverage isn’t adequate. They should be writing more about the music than what classical musicians eat or wear.

Keeping all this mind, I shall now talk about how youngsters or the uninitiated can go about listening to Ravi Shankar’s music. Everyone has his or own personal taste, and nowhere should they stop listening to what they enjoy. But  at the same time, it’s always good to open up one’s mind and listen to other genres. Based on one’s mood or the occasion, one can choose.

On first reaction, Ravi Shankar’s sitar will lend a calm and relaxing effect. But to appreciate it more, one should have a basic idea on how things work, and some of the terms used. One should know a little bit about the sitar, and the main practitioners of the instrument. For that, you could check my earlier blog on the sitar, which you’ll find on https://narenmusicnotes.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/instruments-from-india-2-sitar/

Having done that, it would be worthwhile to pick up some of Ravi Shankar’s recordings. One way is to randomly pick up some CDs from the stores or check out live performances or clips on You Tube. One could specifically look for ragas he excelled in, like Maanj Khamaj, Kirwani, Hem Bihag, Mishra Pilu, Pancham se Gara, Hameer Kalyani, Bhimpalasi or Charukeshi. These may be new names to many of you, but whatever raga you choose, you could just soak in the melody.

Finally, to get an idea of the diverse kinds of music he did, you could choose among the 10 CDs recommended below. There are so many recordings, and choosing only 10 wasn’t easy. Ravi Shankar did a good mix of purely classical music, east-west collaborations and devotional music, and even composed for a few films like the Apu Trilogy, Anuradha and Gandhi. While the film soundtracks are essential listening, I shall try to provide a balance between the other genres, with a brief description of what to expect. Do check them out.

The Sounds of India: This would be a great way to start because it contains an introduction to Indian music, and descriptions of the compositions. The ragas include Maru Bihag, Bhimpalasi and Sindhu Bhairavi. Chatur Lal plays the tabla.

Live at Monterey: This contains his recital at the historic Monterey pop festival in 1967. Here, he is accompanied by the legendary tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha. It was the first major exposure of rock and pop audiences to Indian classical music. Besides raga Bhimpalasi, it contains a fast light classical piece and a six-minute tabla solo recital. Ravi Shankar also played at the 1969 Woodstock festival, facing criticism for playing for a hippie crowd, and at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, organised by George Harrison of the Beatles to raise funds for war victims.

For a clip from the Monterey festival, which defines the kind of storm Ravi Shankar created in the West, you could check the YouTube link pasted above.

Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000: The album is one of Ravi Shankar’s best sellers, mainly because it won the Grammy award for best world music album. Ragas Kaunshi Kanhada and Mishra Gara are played, and it also features his daughter Anoushka Shankar.

In Concert 1972 (with Ali Akbar Khan): This double album contains a jugalbandi (duet) with the great sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and has Ustad Allarakha on tabla. The ragas played are Maanjh Khamaj, Hem Bihag and Sindhu Bhairavi.

West Meets East: A 1967 collaboration with the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, this was a unique experiment, much ahead of its time. The collaboration with the Indian sitar and western violin is mind blowing. The two of them released two more albums in the same series.

Passages: On this 1990 album, Ravi Shankar teams up with the well-known American composer Philip Glass. The style used is that of chamber music, and it also features the violin, cello, flute, saxophones, trombones and tabla.

Sitar Concertos 1 and 2: Ravi Shankar wrote two concertos, where the sitar was played prominently against the backdrop of orchestras from London. The first one was conducted by Andre Previn and the second by Zubin Mehta.

Shankar Family & Friends: This was a unique project that had devotional music, ballet and jazz. The pop bhajan ‘I Am Missing You’, sung by his sister-in-law Lakshmi Shankar became popular, and the album also features Ustad Allarakha, santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and sarod player Aashish Khan

Improvisations: Ravi Shankar first explored the amalgam of Indian music and jazz on this 1962 album, where he was joined by American saxophonist-flautist Bud Shank. A composition called ‘Rich a la Rakha’ is dedicated to drummer Buddy Rich and Ustad Allarakha. The sitar maestro later released another album called Jazzmine exploring a similar theme.

Chants of India: A must for every collection, as its contains ancient Sanskrit chants used in the Vedas and Upanishads, and some mantras. Very peaceful and soothing music.

Besides the CDs, it would be ideal if you could check out his autobiography Raga Mala, which gives a very clear picture of the man and his music. Ravi Shankar changed the way the world looked at Indian music, and it’s absolutely essential for every youngster to hear him.

 

The link to my Mid Day article, published on December 13, is http://www.mid-day.com/news/2012/dec/131212-Immortal-like-his-music-Pandit-Ravi-Shankar-sitar-American-violinist-Yehudi-Menuhin.htm

Guest article – Parag Kamani/ Rock of Ages


FOR me, this was one huge miss. Because of unavoidable personal work, I had to go outstation, and skip the Guns N’ Roses gig in Mumbai, though I had already written a curtain raiser called ‘Waiting for GNR’ in my blog. My good friend Parag Kamani, however, kindly consented to write a guest article for this blog.

Parag is a Mumbai-based music industry professional and music columnist. Kaansen Kalling extends gratitude to him for posting this.

 gnr2

Walking into the audience at Mumbai’s BKC to attend the Guns N’ Roses concert on December 9, 2012, I was filled with tepidity as only the vocalist from the original band, Axl Rose, remained its sole survivor. But from the smell of grass outside the venue to seeing a crowd numbering 10,000 people inside the MMRDA Grounds ensured that no one had devalued the strength of the band even if it was without the likes of guitarist Izzy Stradlin and, needless to say, Slash.

However, by the time the programme commenced at 7 pm or so, all doubts vanished about the competency of the band, supported by the tightness of the sound – at least where I was located i.e. in the standing Rs 3,000 priced “gold” category [the others were “silver” at Rs 1,500, also standing, and the seated Rs 10,000, located between these two categories] – as the now 50 year old Axl Rose cut into the title track of the band’s lesser known last album, Chinese Democracy.

While his distinctive voice has certainly lost its shine from the heydays of the ‘80s, he nevertheless put full effort into the songs performed as he played songs from the album that had made G N’ R superstars in the first place – Appetite For Destruction – with selections such as Welcome To The Jungle, It’s So Easy, Mr Brownstone, and Rocket Queen, among others.

As Axl took multiple breathers during the set by going off stage wherein he changed his tee, hat, jacket and, perhaps, the chains worn around his neck, it also provided the three guitarists – Richard Fortus, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and DJ Ashba [who appeared to mimic the clothing and guitaring of Slash to the T] – to showcase their respective solo talents. And, for the record, as much as it would have been difficult to cater to an obviously, largely sceptical audience – like me – who would have preferred the original members representing G N’ R; on the whole, the “new” band was indeed brilliant in performance even if it did take three guitarists to reproduce what just two had done in the past. An observation provided to me was that most of the “new” band members have now had a stint with G N’ R a lot longer than the “original” line-up.

Axl obviously does not like to surprise the audience from a set list that is being utilised for the better part of the past several years but, for those who were not aware of it, paradoxically, there were surprises galore. There were the expected “covers” that have graced G N’ R albums from the past such as Paul McCartney & Wings’ Live And Let Die and the call [from Axl]-and-response [from the audience] on Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, which was dedicated to Mumbai, India, and to Freddie Mercury. [For the trivia-minded, the link with Mercury first occurred in 1992 when Guns N’ Roses appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, performing a three-song set. Slash later performed Tie Your Mother Down with the surviving members of Queen, while Axl performed We Will Rock You and sang a duet with Elton John on Bohemian Rhapsody. When the band returned to the U.S. for the second leg of the Use Your Illusion tour, Queen guitarist Brian May and his band opened the shows.] Meanwhile, there were more covers too: Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, an outstanding reading of The Who’s The Seeker, Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down and, surprise, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall [part II] – which commenced at the conclusion of the anthemic Sweet Child O’ Mine that had the audience sing along – with Axl seated at the piano before seguing into November Rain.

As the concert lasting three hours was coming to an end, the band went through the acoustic Patience, that had an extended opening sequence containing interplay between Thal and Ashba, a song that was revived by actor Tom Cruise through his movie – and vocals – from earlier this year, Rock Of Ages. The song concluded with cannons firing red confetti over the crowd. After some 32 songs [yes, count them!] containing instrumentals, popular tracks, covers, jams, and a few throwaways [mainly from Chinese Democracy], the concert was over, but one that was, without doubt, full value for money and thanks to Axl for that! “I’ve been wanting to come to India for the last 27 years,” he announced. “It’s finally happened [and] I’m so happy, I’m so thankful to you guys for being here.”

Indeed, if Guns N’ Roses had thorns from the past, he has had them removed for the present and ensured that the band merely requires an Axl to make it rock as a perfectly serviced vehicle in future!

 

Set List:

1. Chinese Democracy

2. Welcome To The Jungle

3. It’s So Easy

4. Mr. Brownstone

5. Estranged

6. Rocket Queen

7. Richard Fortus Guitar Solo

(Blacklight Jesus Of Transylvania)

8. Live and Let Die

(Wings’ cover)

9. This I Love

10. Better

11. Motivation

(Tommy Stinson song) (Tommy Stinson on lead vocals, with band introductions)

12. Dizzy Reed Piano Solo

(No Quarter by Led Zeppelin)

13. Catcher In The Rye

14. Street Of Dreams

15. There Was A Time

16. You Could Be Mine

17. DJ Ashba Guitar Solo

(Ballad of Death)

18. Sweet Child O’ Mine

19. Another Brick In The Wall Part 2

(Pink Floyd cover) (with Axl on piano)

20. November Rain

21. Objectify

(Bumblefoot cover) (Bumblefoot on lead vocals)

22. Don’t Cry

23. The Seeker

(The Who cover)

24. Civil War

25. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

(Bob Dylan cover)

26. Jam

27. Nightrain

Encore:

28. Don’t Let It Bring You Down

(Neil Young cover)

29. Jam

30. Patience

31. Jam

32. Paradise City

 

Line-up:

 Axl Rose – lead vocals (1985–present)

 Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals (1990–present)

 Tommy Stinson – bass, backing vocals (1998–present)

 Chris Pitman – keyboards, backing vocals (1998–present)

 Richard Fortus – rhythm guitar (2002–present)

 Frank Ferrer – drums (2006–present)

 Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – lead guitar (2006–present)

 DJ Ashba – lead guitar (2009–present)

 

The incredible guitaring of Strunz & Farah


ab

GIG REVIEW

Strunz & Farah

Genre: World music

Venue: Tata Theatre, Mumbai

Date: December 4, 2012

THERE may be no standard way to define the music of Strunz & Farah. The layperson may describe them as two outstanding acoustic guitarists. The more serious listener may call them ethno-jazz. Wikipedia puts them in the ‘new flamenco’ category. Yet others may call them improvisational acoustic guitar, or even more simply, guitar-based world music.

But then, what’s in a name? What one witnessed at Mumbai’s Tata Theatre on Tuesday, December 4, was nothing short of pure magic. For around two hours, guitarists Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah transported the audience into another universe with their amazing virtuosity, breath-taking  improvisations and sheer artistic wizardry.

Ably assisted on flute, clarinet, bass and percussion, Strunz & Farah played 11 original compositions in their two-hour set. Many of us would have heard exceptional acoustic guitaring by the likes of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell, but this wasn’t any different in terms of musical genius.

The event was organised as part of the Music Gurus series conceptualised and produced by Indigo Live, which had earlier done a show featuring Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Mohan Veena, an adapted guitar, and Toumani Diabate of Mali on kora, a type of harp. On Tuesday, though one sadly saw many empty seats in the side wings, those who attended were left with warm memories.

Interestingly, one spotted many Mumbai musicians in the audience ― Gary Lawyer, Leslie Lewis, Ehsaan Noorani, Ranjit Barot, Sridhar Parthasarathy, some members of Indus Creed. And that’s something that happens only when the concert features performers of the highest calibre.

The duo has been performing together since 1980. Strunz, a Costa Rican, met Farah, an Iranian, in the US, and quickly they decided that though they were from different parts of the globe, they could team up to produce something unique.

While their music was heavily influenced by the Spanish style of flamenco, they added jazz improvisational techniques and diverse elements of Latin American folk, Cuban rumba, traditional Middle Eastern/ Iranian music and European gypsy music, thus sounding truly eclectic. The 80s marked a revival of flamenco music, thanks to guitarists like Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena and Tomatito, and the band Pata Negra.

Stunz & Farah sounded distinct through their unique mix. The term ‘new flamenco’ (or nuevo flamenco) became popular after an album of that name was released by guitarist Ottmar Leibert in 1990, and Strunz & Farah were classified in that genre, though their actual mix is much wider.

The distinct influences were definitely visible at Tuesday’s show. The group began with the tracks ‘Luxuriance’ and ‘Night Jasmine’, but the obvious highlights were ‘Vela al Viento’, which featured a stunning guitar stretch by Strunz, ‘Raggle Taggle’, which had charming European gypsy influences, ‘Jamilah’, which blended various Iranian motifs with a global sound, and ‘Amber and Musk’, which had a good amalgam of Middle Eastern melodies and Latin American rhythms.

For the last piece, Strunz announced ‘Twilight at the Zuq’, but an ardent fan in the audience requested the popular ‘Bola’. The guitarist accepted, and the dazzling guitar coordination on this track brought the show to an astounding finish.

Of the guitarists, Strunz had the more aggressive style, filled with lightning-speed solos, whereas Farah was more melodic, playing in a manner reminiscent of Paco de Lucia. Though one doesn’t know whether it was done deliberately, the volume of Farah’s guitar seemed a bit lower.

For variety, there were excellent solos by flautist Rob Hardt, who also played the clarinet on a few songs, and percussionist Majeed Ghorbanian, who had a very unusual set-up that included a cajon, cymbals, a frame drum and chimes. The bassist, unfortunately, didn’t get too many exclusive parts, and simply played the role of an accompanist.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and a special treat for world music fans. Overall, Mumbai does not have too many concerts of major artistes in this category, and in the past two or three years, only the performance of African singer Angelique Kidjo and, of course, Toumani Diabate, come to mind.  Next week, the Idan Raichel Project from Israel will play at the Tata Theatre and that should also be worth checking out.

Indigo Live has promised to bring down at least two such acts every year. While that will surely expose Indian audiences to music from different geographical regions, one also wishes someone thinks of a full-fledged world music festival in Mumbai.

The city organises festivals in western classical, jazz, the blues, homegrown rock and various genres of Indian music, and a multi-artiste event featuring various global talents would be more than welcome. Is anybody listening?

When jazz greats came marching in


dukebrubeck

louis

Clockwise from top-left: Duke Ellington,  Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong

JOURNALIST and writer Naresh Fernandes has done extensive research on the Bombay jazz scene that existed from the 30s to the 60s, documenting his findings in the book Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age. So when he sent a Facebook invitation to an audio-visual presentation on American jazz greats who visited the city some 50-odd years ago, the temptation to attend was hard to resist, even though it was Sunday siesta time.

Held at the mCubed library next to Bandra Gymkhana, the event was called Battleground Bombay: Hot Jazz and the Cold War. Through an audio-visual presentation, the focus was on how the US State Department used jazz as a weapon to try to win hearts and minds in Bombay in the 50s and 60s.

Now, a lot of people from my generation, born in the 60s, would have been exposed to foreign jazz bands primarily through the Jazz Yatra, which has, after being started in 1978, featured greats like Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Clark Terry, Stephane Grappelli, Henry Threadgill, Illinois Jacquet, Charlie Byrd, Abdullah Ibrahim, Sadao Watanabe and a host of others. The enterprising Niranjan Jhaveri of Jazz-India had played a pioneering role in bringing these luminaries to India.

Naresh’s reference was, of course, to those who had come much earlier, when the Cold War between the US and Russia was at its peak, and the Americans had sought to use cultural diplomacy to attract people in different regions. And jazz, being the most important American genre at that time, found obvious favour.

Those days, some of the popular venues in Bombay were the Taj Mahal Hotel ball room, the now defunct Rang Bhavan and the earlier avatar of Shanmukhananda Hall. The three real legends to visit the city in that period were pianist Dave Brubeck, bandleader Duke Ellington and singer-trumpeter Louis Armstrong. In his presentation, Naresh also made references of trombonist Jack Teagarden and trumpeter Red Nichols.

Brubeck came here with his famed band, comprising alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello, in 1958. He didn’t remember much about his tour as such, but when Naresh interviewed him for his book, Brubeck recalled that his piano had got warped by the heat, and he found a replacement in a local music store (possibly Furtados). However, the new piano had to be carried to the venue at Eros theatre by porters who had to march in proper step to ensure that this one didn’t go wrong either.

On that visit, Brubeck also played at a local industrialist’s house, jamming with Indian percussionists and even with sitar maestro Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan (reference of which was made in my earlier blog ‘Instruments from India – 2/ Sitar’). He was reported to have quipped that everyone got so deeply fascinated by each other’s styles that either his band members would end up playing Indian music, or the Indian musicians would switch to jazz.

Brubeck used that visit as an inspiration to write some tunes on the album Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. And specially dedicated to our country was a piece called ‘Calcutta Blues’.

Interestingly, even the great Duke Ellington used his visit to India (Bombay, Madras, New Delhi) to dedicate tunes called ‘Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)’ and ‘Agra’, which were featured on the album Far East Suite. His orchestra, which came here in 1963, included such master-musicians as pianist-arranger Billy Strayhorn, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and trumpeter Cat Anderson.

On that visit, even the young, 18-year-old sarod player Amjad Ali Khan got a chance to play with Ellington, though the newspaper report erroneously described his instrument as a sitar.

As part of this US state department series, the iconic Louis Armstrong visited India the following year, 1964. His shows at the Rang Bhavan and Shanmukhananda were packed to capacity, and the songs ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, ‘Saint Louis Blues’ and ‘Hello, Dolly!’ were received with tremendous applause.

Naresh concluded his session with a mention of the jazz opera The Real Ambassadors, featuring Brubeck, Armstrong, singer Carmen McCrae and others as a kind of spoof on the government’s policies. The song screened opened with the lines ‘Who’s the real ambassador?”

After these visits, the popularity of jazz came down, and the US State Department switched to soul and rhythm ‘n’ blues, even bringing the legendary singer Mahalia Jackson.

The session lasted an hour. And though one hoped he had extended it by half an hour and played more music by the featured artistes, Naresh came out with enough rare gems of trivia to keep everyone in rapt attention.

The good thing about such presentations is that they bring like-minded fans together. The jazz-listening community in Mumbai isn’t too large, and today’s youngsters who follow the genre are more into later styles like jazz-rock fusion and modern jazz. Though the older legends are recognised by their popular songs, events like these and artiste-specific listening sessions help people get deeper into the music, besides providing great nostalgia.

While regular concerts are one way to keep things alive and kicking, one would welcome more such presentations and listening sessions to jazz up the scene even more.

 

 

Waiting for GNR


axl

ONE can almost visualise groups of youngsters in black T-shirts walking back towards their cars, humming ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ or playing air guitar to ‘November Rain’ around 10 pm the following Sunday, December 9. American hard rock monsters Guns N’ Roses would have just completed their gig at the MMRDA grounds, Mumbai, having done Bangalore on December 7, before heading to Gurgaon on December 12.

This would be the band’s first visit to India, a good quarter century after they hit the global rock headlines with their debut album Appetite For Destruction. While a section of people may complain that vocalist Axl Rose is the only surviving member from the original line-up, and that super-guitarist Slash won’t be here, this would surely be an experience of a lifetime for those who’ve grown up on GNR. And there are many of them.

What one will definitely get is a strong set-list. Besides the two songs mentioned above, GNR has a number of hits like ‘Paradise City’, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Patience’, ‘Civil War’, ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Mr Brownstone’, ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Street of Dreams’ and even covers of Aerosmith’s ‘Mama Kin’, Nazareth’s ‘Hair of the Dog’, Paul McCartney & the Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’. Assuming they’ll render most of these songs, we should have a rocking show.

One actually fails to understand this brouhaha about Slash’s absence. Obviously, those who’re using that as an excuse to stay away know little about the band, except for a couple of videos they’ve probably seen years ago, showing Slash in his trademark hat, face hidden by his hair, biceps bulging, tattoos showing, guitar dazzling and riffs overflowing.

Undoubtedly, Slash is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and was part of the group’s fame in the late 80s and early 90s, even visiting India alone for the MTV launch in Bangalore in 1996. But he left the group some 16 years ago, and has moved on with solo projects or new bands like Velvet Revolver. And though GNR had a long break through the mid-90s, they’ve been touring without Slash for almost 14 years, with Axl pretty much dominating the affairs.

If one looks at the history of rock, line-up changes have been part of many well-known groups, including Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson was out of Iron Maiden for nearly nine years, but the group went on till he returned in 1999. Roger Waters quit Pink Floyd in 1985, but the band continued, and Waters himself continued to do shows featuring Floyd songs. The guitarists of his band, including Snowy White and Doyle Bramhall II, continued to play riffs all of us identify with David Gilmour.

Take Deep Purple too. Ritchie Blackmore was the star guitarist of Deep Purple, and was in and out till he finally quit in 1993. After his departure, Steve Morse continued where he left off. Keyboardist Jon Lord gave a distinct sound to this group, but after he parted ways in 2002, the band had a replacement in Don Airey. Such examples abound, and just show that much as individual members have contributed to a band’s success, their departure does not stop the band from progressing further.

The same may be the case with GNR. The current line-up features, besides Axl Rose, guitarists DJ Ashba and Ron Thal, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, bassist Tommy Stinson, rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. Barring Ashba who joined in 2009, all members have been with the band for at least six years, with Dizzy Reed being around since the Use Your Illusion 1 album days in the early 90s.

Yes, a large number of fans will be more familiar with older GNR musicians like Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, rhythm guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke, and drummers Steven Adler and Matt Sorum. But the good thing about the current line-up is that barring Axl and maybe Dizzy, one may not look at the others with much expectation. Because of this, it’s quite likely that a couple of them may spring a surprise.

Such a thing has happened in India quite a few times. When the Scorpions first came to Bangalore around 11 or 12 years ago, the known names were vocalist Klaus Meine, and guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs. But the man who was a total revelation was unheard-of young drummer James Kottak. Very recently, when Santana played in Bangalore, one was impressed by newer performers like keyboardist David Matthews, drummer Dennis Chambers (more known in the jazz field), percussionist Raul Rekow and trombonist Jeff Cressman, though most fans are more familiar with the older band members who played at Woodstock in 1969.

The great thing, of course, is that suddenly, a lot of rock bands are coming to India. Besides Santana and GNR this year, we’ve had Megadeth, Slayer and Korn doing open-air concerts, and Poets Of The Fall and Third Eye Blind doing the Hard Rock Café rounds. Last year, Metallica played in Bangalore, though their Gurgaon show was sadly cancelled at the last minute. Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Roger Waters, Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Aerosmith, Joe Satriani, America, Machine Head, Saving Abel and INXS are among those who’ve played over the past decade. Over the next few months, more acts are reported to be in the offing, though details are awaited.

Mumbai, sadly, has a disadvantage in that the entertainment tax is pegged at a whopping 25 per cent, compared to 10 per cent in Bangalore and Gurgaon. That’s the main reason why most shows go to other cities, as things become more feasible for concert organisers. Hopefully, the Maharashtra state government will do something to bring more rock entertainment to the country’s entertainment capital by fixing a reasonable tax structure.

Finally, a few people may argue that many bands are coming to India well after they’ve past their prime, or that they’ve seen better shows in New York or London 20 years ago. But one must also consider the fact that the market in India has opened up considerably in the past few years, and it’s great to see all the great bands come one after the other. Axl Rose may have aged, like all musicians, but he’s still very much a rockstar.

Guns N’ Roses is being presented by Mooz Entertainment in Bangalore on December 7, Mumbai on December 9 and Gurgaon on December 12

Tag Cloud