September 2007

Toronto International Indo-Jazz Festival day 2

Monsoon with Shantanu Bhattacharyya Indo-Pak Coalition

September 13, 2007 Hugh's Room Toronto
Indo Inspirations Take Flight in a Visionary New Festival
by Sebastian Cook with photos by Dougal Bichan

2007 has been a particularly rich year in terms of new additions to Toronto’s festival scene. One that may have flown largely under the mass consciousness radar — but is every bit as inspiring, brilliantly and holistically realized — is the Toronto International Indo-Jazz Festival which took place over two nights at Hugh’s Room. I had the pleasure of attending the second evening of this East-West cross-generational musical summit; which featured the incomparable New York-based ensemble Indo-Pak Coalition and rising local outfit Monsoon.

Monsoon is led by tenor saxophonist and festival founder Jonathan Kay, his brother Andrew Kay and bassist/co-founder Justin Gray. I arrived about ten minutes into their set, just as tabla master Ravi Naimpally was launching into a typically virtuosic polyrhythmic solo. This blistering tempo segued into a hypnotically funky raga groove, vocally fronted by the chanting of Shantanu Bhattacharyya, whose young daughter sat a few feet away from her father at the front of the stage playing shakers. To see these veteran sages (a group that also included multi-instrumental wizard George Koller), among the band’s core made up of players from my own generation, and this young child so joyously immersed in the music was to witness the essence of music as a tribal, family experience.

The emotional gravitas reached its peak when Koller introduced “Child’s Eyes” by Doug Riley, a stirring tribute to the recently passed keyboard great which Koller played on the dilruba -- a bowed string instrument whose Indian name so appropriately means “robber of the heart” – over top of a haunting drone. As the song came to a close over heartfelt applause, Andrew Kay introduced a gorgeous soprano sax melody, then came a heavily distorted bass line, and a 15/8 raga that in turn flowed into a sort of Indo-jazz march.

And so Monsoon touched down on the shores of Hugh’s Room, over a two-hour set that while certainly a revelation went well over its intended time and thus thinned out the crowd considerably for Indo-Pak Coalition. This was indeed unfortunate, for this trio put out one of the most breathtaking displays of world-jazz improvisational musicianship I have ever seen — one that undoubtedly would have channeled an increase of energy in the room accordingly.

Shantanu Bhattacharyya

Jonathan Kay and Andrew Kay
Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa started it off with a brilliantly commanding volley, marked by transitions between melodic lines in which he used some truly jaw-dropping breath techniques to create tonal bridges between each improvised sonic idea. Rez Abbasi’s guitar entered in a soft, almost baroque voice — which like a fine wine had hints of bass and horn. On tablas, Dan Weiss harnessed the entire tonal range and rhythmic energy of this beautiful instrument, displaying the spirit of cross-cultural musical innovation one might expect from a New Yorker who is also renowned as a kit drummer. The trio traded call-and-responses in various combinations and melodic lines, drawing audible exhalations from the crowd that had packed forward to the stage. Shades of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gary Bartz among other seminal globally inspired American jazz came to mind. Weiss ended one tune with a marvelous percussion-tone inspired scat, a testament to how these great musicians must actually think in rhythmic patterns.

The festival’s promotional materials had described these men as three of the world’s most progressive musicians, and after seeing them live this lofty praise seemed well earned.

Towards the end, Abbasi announced that the Indo-Pak Coalition would be recording together for the first time in the New Year. This is definitely a release that every global jazz lover should be eagerly awaiting.

In the same spirit, Toronto’s world/jazz continuum ought to keep this visionary festival in mind. Adding another inspiring note to the evening, profits from the festival were to be donated to underprivileged musicians in India. It is not a stretch to imagine some of the beneficiaries of this idea one day appearing on stage here.

Special thanks to Chris Gartner of Tasa for his generous musical explanations and insights over the course of the evening.

For more background on the festival, visit Bhakti Music’s exceptional website at www.bhaktimusic.ca

We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
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Dougal Bichan
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The Live Music Report

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