December 2008

at the second annual Toronto Indo-Jazz Festival
December 18, 2008 Trane Studio Toronto
Report by Christopher Butcher with photos by Mike Colyer
This December marked the second year of The Toronto Indo-Jazz Festival. Having attended the first annual festival, I jumped at the chance to review the second. The festival is the brainchild of Jonathan Kay, Andrew Kay and Justin Gray and features bands that play music on the common ground between Jazz and Indian Classical Music. This year’s festival was held at a smaller venue (the beautiful Trane Studio) and lacked any out-of-town groups, but was still a resounding success.
Not only a music event, the festival was organized as a means to raise money for underprivileged children in India who don’t have the resources to study music. Jon Kay, Andrew Kay and Justin Gray have traveled to India once before and on their second trip to India in early 2009 will be delivering the profits and donations for children to study with renowned guru Shantanu Bhattacharyya.

The second night of the festival started off with a traditional tabla concert. Ravi Naimpally, a master of the tablas, was accompanied by Jonathan Kay on the Harmonium (a small keyboard powered by a manually operated bellows) and Ernie Tollar on the clarinet. The universe of Indian music is new and fresh to me and I really enjoyed the performance. Kay and Tollar were very much accompanists, the majority of what they played was simply going up and down the raga or scale in unison. Naimpally was very much in the starring role. Occasionally Naimpally would grab the microphone and count out the beats or say the syllables of the rhythm. Occasionally, Kay and Tollar would break up their line, even moving into a moment of melodic counterpoint at the end of the piece. It was interesting to hear not only the layer upon layer of rhythmic figures Naimpally has mastered but also the amount of tonal variety he is able to coax from two small drums. Even in the first set in this traditional context it was obvious that Naimpally has a comprehensive understanding of many types of music. Spontaneously, he came upon a 4/6 polyrhythm, the base of much of Africa and Cuba’s music, and later seemed to conjure up a Brazilian Bateria with the sound of dueling surdos coming out of his larger tabla.

The second set was played by Toronto’s own Tasa. I say Toronto’s own as this group truly is representative of this city’s diverse nature. The group is lead by Naimpally and obviously is inspired and informed by traditional Indian music, but that is just one ingredient in a complex recipe. Ernie Tollar was back for the second set, this time spending most of his time on soprano sax and numerous flutes. He sounded very much in his element with Tasa and very comfortable playing various wooden flutes, an obscure instrument to double on. After Tollar, Allan Hetherington seemed to grab the audience’s attention. He played the drum set with authority and control but also added some very nice touches with extensive use of hand percussion. He even played whole tunes on pandeiro, really changing the vibe of the band in beautiful way. It was interesting to see Samidha Joglekar sitting at the back of the stage. She controlled the shruti box and sang beautifully intermittently throughout the set. Joglekar certainly didn’t steal the spotlight, instead adding the colour of her voice very effectively in small doses, sort of like the ensemble’s secret weapon.

Ravi Naimpally

Ernie Tollar

Alan Hetherington
Chris Gartner did a great job holding the band down on the bass, a difficult task given the myriad of styles and rhythmic complexity of the music. He was also showcased as a soloist. In the introduction to the tunes, he used effects pedals and midi equipment very effectively setting the mood of everything played. Matt Campbell, a sub into the band, played his ensemble parts very well but his solos tended to wander into noodly guitar fusion territory. Naimpally sounded very strong holding it down on the tablas, having been pushed more into the background in the second set with the addition of all the other musicians.

Naimpally shone as a bandleader, assembling these very talented musicians into a cohesive unit playing this complex synthesis of many types of music. This band constructed something very fresh and meaningful out of traditional Indian music, Jazz, Rock, and Fusion with healthy doses of Brazilian music, Reggae and even New Orleans funk thrown into the mix by all the band members. I hope to see Tasa play again at many more annual editions of the Toronto Indo-Jazz Festival.

The musicians
Ravi Naimpally – tablas
Ernie Tollar – clarinet, soprano saxophone, flutes
Matt Campbell – guitar
Samidha Joglekar – voice
Chris Gartner – bass
Alan Hetherington – drums and percussion
Jonathan Kay – harmonium


We welcome your comments and feedback
Christopher Butcher
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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