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Crosscurrents at confluence of Indo-Jazz

Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland and friends on frontiers of fusion at Chan Centre

All-star constellation of Bollywood and Jazz luminaries. Photo: Crosscurrents

The matron next to me – she of the multi-hundred dollar silk sari, pearl choker and white gold charm bracelet – clapped demurely for vocalist Shankar Mahadevan’s souped up bhajans, saxiphonist Chris Potter’s jazz licks, Dave Holland’s navel-tickling riffs on the double bass and Louiz Banks’ flights of pianistic fancy.

When Banks’ son Gino built up a head of steam on the trapset, she’d foot-tap along appreciatively, especially when he’d engage master tabalji Zakir Hussain in a jugalbandi (friendly percussion duel).

But what really got her going was when Sanjay Divecha’s electric guitar zinged out the opening strains of the hoariest Hindi jitterbug jukebox fave Eena Meena Deeka.

Then she started jiggling and jouncing in her seat and mouthing the nonsense syllables of the lyric like the Bombay bobby-soxer she might have been back in 1957, when the song first figured in Bollywood boffin Kishore Kumar’s masala melodrama Aasha.

Filmic nostalgia brought out Vancouver’s South Asian community in full force and finery for the third gala event in the Chan Centre’s 2017-2018 concert series. There was hardly a dry eye in the standing ovation crowd after the final encore: a sentimental ballad from the 2007 Amir Khan-starrer Taare Zameen Par (translation: “stars come down to earth.”)

Stars indeed. The onstage septet, dubbed Crosscurrents, presents a uniquely lustrous constellation of luminaries from both the Bollywood pantheon and the jazz galaxy.

Hussain is India’s reigning hereditary drum dynast. Yet he has ventured further into fusion than even his legendary father, Ustaad Allaraka, collaborating with the likes of Charles Lloyd and Herbie Hancock.

So it’s perhaps only fitting that he has now teamed up with yet another Hancock alumnus: Chris Potter, whose own roster of distinguished jazz interlocutors also includes the likes of Charles Lloyd, Jim Hall and the Mingus Big Band.

Mahadevan forsook a software career to become one of Bollywood’s “go-to” composers and the dubbed singing voice of many a matinee idol. His Crosscurrents solos skirt the fusion frontier, where South Indian sargam solfege vocalization and North Indian ta’ans edge closest to jazz scat singing.

Divecha started out on the sitar. As a guitarist, he’s an autodidact, self-exiled 1987-2003 to the U.S. before coming home for a return to his Indian roots. Banks the Elder, a Bollywood luminary, is widely recognized as the “Godfather” of Indo-Jazz.” His son upholds the lineage while also venturing into fusion collaborations with leading lights of Indian classical music.

But, to my mind, for sheer showmanly flair, the most persuasive jazz-classical hybridizations were Holland’s duets with Hussain.

When he first burst onto the Indian scene under the aegis of his famous father, Zakir shed the traditional tabalji persona of a smilingly ingratiating, self-effacing accompanist. Instead, the mop-topped young scion set himself up as an all-eclipsing soloist in his own right, cultivating a rock-star image of percussive pyrotechnics and novel instrumentation.

He still surrounds himself onstage with an array of differently pitched chattū (right-hand) drums for deeper incursions into the melodic dimension of his music. But, in performance dynamics, he’s considerably mellowed – so much so that his interaction with Holland was almost courtly.

As well it might be. The bearded and bespectacled Holland projects a professorial air that commands respect; he plays second (bass) fiddle to nobody. In half a century on the jazz scene, he’s worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Chick Corea, Stan Getz and Spanish guitarist Pepe Habichuela.

In the process, he’s learned that jazz mastery is as much about listening as playing. It shows in the way he and Hussain relate onstage – each indrawn and grooving, yet wholly attentive, ingeniously responsive and courteously deferential to each other. A joy to watch.

In India, Hindu pilgrims journey up and down the subcontinent to ritually immerse themselves in the prayags (confluences) of sacred rivers. A “holy dip” into the musical confluence of Crosscurrents offered the Chan Centre audience an inkling of such spiritual uplift.   




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