Borneo Jazz, May 12-15, 2011
The opening band of the festival program to take the stage was C'Quence, a local band comprised of British, Dutch, Malaysian, Colombian and Venezuelan musicians who ran through an enthusiastic set of Latin standards. The inclusion of an amateur local band in the festival reflects the ethos of the festival organizers as Raine-Rouche explains: "We try to give a helping hand to young, up-and-oming artists." Hopefully, the example of C'Quence will encourage amateur musicians in Miri and throughout Malaysia, to strive for a slot on future Borneo Jazz programs. In previous years the Marina Bay opening night was more an informal wine-and-dine get together for media, musicians and organizers, but the live performances introduced this year and the opening of the doors to the public is part of the festival's long-term strategy, according to Dato Rashid Khan: "Part of our vision is to grow fringe events. These are seeds that we are planting,"
As Raine-Rouche underlines, Borneo Jazzlike its elder sister the Rainforest Music Festivaloffers quality music to festival goers, in spite of the fact that many of the performers may not be household names, as yet: "The festival tries to introduce people that you maybe haven't heard before but you will in the future." The second band to take the stage, Dhruv, gave an electrifying performance of jazz-fusion which provided a highlight of the four days. Guitarist and founder Dhruv Ghanekar is a graduate of Berklee who has performed with giants of the Indian music scene including sarangi player Sultan Khan, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, percussionist Trilok Gurtu, as well as drummer Ranjit Barot and keyboardist Louis Banks. An outstanding guitarist, Ghanekar's fusion is finely balanced between his Indian roots and jazz, with certain rhythmic and harmonic elements adapted from both.
Ghanekar's flawless technique is characterized by a beautifully clear enunciationevery note is clearly defined, and absolutely none sound superfluous or gratuitous. Feather-light chords, occasional veena-like shimmies and hypnotic runs were underpinned by subtle harmonics and seductive melodies. Although it was initially tempting to draw comparison to guitarist John McLaughlin who pioneered the fusion of jazz and Indian music in the'70s, it soon became clear that Ghanekar is a singular guitarist who has developed his own vocabulary and style. This is a band of equals, however, and the poly rhythmic drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon Dsilva and keyboardist/saxophonist Ramiandrisoa all excelled. That these four musicians have been playing with each other in various bands for around a decade was apparent in the band's discipline and in its freedom. There was an energy in the compositions which perhaps reflected the environment of hometown Mumbai, as the leader intimated: "Mumbai is like a souped-up New York, made up of families," he told the audience, "it's very intense."
A fine composer, Ghanekar's tunes covered a lot of ground in tempo and intensity. Southern Indian carnatic music was given a rocked out treatment as Banks kept up hypnotic poly rhythms of great intensity and Ramiandrisoa supplied a less-is-more approach to the keyboards; his percussive dabs and bursts of color adding much to the overall effect of the music. The beautifully spare architecture of the quietly strummed ballad "If Only," was dedicated to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Ghanekar's ruminative chords and Dsilva's sympathetic bass carried the melody while Bank's brushes swept the tune along ever so gently. By way of a nice contrast in dynamics, Ramiandrisoa's lovely keyboard solo danced along at a pace which seemed to outstrip his companions but which was emotionally spot-on.
Ramiandrisoa doubled on soprano sax on a couple of numbers and displayed fine chops. Dsilva was a revelation on bass, wowing the audience with dazzling runs the length and breadth of his six-stringed instrument. A self-taught musician, Dsilva played with Trilok Gurtu for two years, and is as impressive a bassist as any, in an age of staggering post Jaco Pastorius bassists. Based on the evidence of this jaw-dropping performance it seems a dead cert that we are going to be hearing a lot more of him in the future. However, it may be a little unfair to single out Dsilva, as all the musicians were simply phenomenal, and Dhruva relatively new quartetcould yet take the world by storm.
Most of the assembled media was left wondering why this sensational band wasn't on the main stage program.