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Back Roads Beat

Burning And Chilling At Jazzmandu 2005

By Published: November 15, 2005
Keyboardist Bastian Flury's modal/funk lines reflected the mix of influences he says he draws from Herbie Hancock's fusion and Steve Coleman's free improvisation. Aballa was a much stronger contributor on saxophone and flute than during Nandra's set with sharp, smart and easy to follow licks that didn't feel shallow when slow nor like excessive note indulgence when the pace quickened.

Songs ranged from rock-fusion originals like "Boot" ("It's kind of the short form for 'Budda's Long Out Of Town,'" Chettri said) to a fairly straight, if contemporary arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Caravan." By global standards it would qualify as good; as a showcase for exposing listeners to jazz Nepal it was first-rate.

Still, the best pure jazz playing came from the imported talent of Solid and their heavy progressive/West Coast leanings. Playing mostly original songs "with an obscure standard here and there," their variety of interplay and ability to stray tunefully from basic structures was clearly a step above. Guitarist Bjorn Solli's cool-era chops were the most authentic of the evening and his riffs-and-repeats were the exception, not the rule, when it came to building tension. Daniel Formo wrung the expected Hammond tonal twists with a mixture of dense chords and mallet-like hammering, while drummer Håkon Johansen got attention for solos ranging from triangle-pitched edge hits to lengthy full-kit rolls.

The final act was Groove Suppa, a funk quintet from Bombay that has performed at three Jazzmandu festivals and, like Solid, is appearing at many of this year's events. The chill affecting all of the post-dusk bands was at its most bone-numbing for them, and they said beforehand it's among the biggest challenges of playing at the festival.

"You just deal with it - enjoy the pain," said percussionist Vibhas "T2" Rahul.

Their heavy rock/fusion beats were good for crowd response, less so for nuanced playing. Guitarists Benoy Rai and Sanjay Joseph highlighted the set with combinations of contemporary fusion mixed with some classic raga influences, but the heavy density of the songs meant much of their work got muddled when the notes were at their fastest.

Joseph, during a pre-show interview, said it's a positive thing Nepali jazz is still in the developing stages since, among other things, it makes it easier for Nepalese artists to be prominently featured instead of being pushed aside by imported talent.

"Guys really had to struggle" without the benefit of music schools, instead through tradition and listening to outside music, he said. "That develops you in a different way than going to school for three years and coming out," he said.

Also, like many aspects of Nepal, there's lots of opportunity for growth, said drummer Lindsay D'Mello.

"It's a really small festival, but it has enormous potential," he said. "Where else will you find a jazz festival in the Hymalays?"

I cut out toward what I assumed what the end of their performance, figuring I'd beat whatever rush there might be for cabs and other transportation back to the city. Bad move - turns out the evening wrapped up with a unbilled group jam that according to the Kathmandu Post "was the most sterling performance of the night. A bigger dancing party had gathered and all the musicians just played on to a single tune, sprinkled with genius and improvisations." Even considering the hometown newspaper seems a bit overly complimentary in many of its reviews, missing this was a disappointment.

The cab ride home was mercifully short, since every driver is well familiar with the tourist district and many streets outside of it are empty after dark as Nepali residents turn in early and wake at sunrise for work. Along the way were the usual mix of locals staying warm by huddling around burning piles of trash in the curbs, and street kids and animals alike rummaging through refuge for food. In Thamel were the usual late-night throngs hitting the bars, "Pizza Hut" restaurants and stores selling all of the "Star Wars" episodes crammed onto a single DVD for a couple of dollars.

There's no guilt, because it's pointless and there's no villains between Jazzmandu and the streets - and the inequity isn't unique to Nepal. The affluent in New York City eat sushi with prices capable of sustaining a homeless family for a month and buy crocodile-skin handbags with funds capable of sheltering them for a year. What rock fans fork over to watch the sixtysomething Rolling Stones in concert could buy enough tickets to send a whole classroom of Nepali students - or maybe the entire school - to the evening's Jazz Bazaar.

Instead, there's a burning curiosity to see if crowds at the free events and students getting a workshop from musicians at a local school will react similarly to those at the Bazaar. The answer won't come for a few days, since the event takes a break Sunday before resuming at another expensive joint - this time seeking something with a decidedly more southern flavor.

Continue: Day 3

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