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Journey into Jazz

The Nitty Gritty Of The Hurdy Gurdy

By Published: October 23, 2003
Riessler brought on the bass clarinet, for which I was waiting impatiently, and produced some incredibly ugly sounds in its bass register which seemed on the point of being amusical: but that was mercifully a prelude. He soon switched over to an up-tempo beat defined by the Tabla, played by Rajeev Davasthali a musician born in our city of Pune, and now a veritable globetrotter... Riessler played frantic Free Jazz –though thankfully he avoided the atonal and the rhythmless variations throughout. The Hurdy Gurdy produces basically ‘groove’ type rhythms, and hence a Free Jazz exponent trying to keep pace with it has to necessarily conform to whatever group of notes that are emerging from it, strictly in time. This crafty trick makes Free Jazz a lot less difficult to ingest.

In another number Riessler brought out his bass clarinet, and ominously removed its reed, turned the mouthpiece connector around letting it hang loose and positioned the open tube end close to his microphone. We held our breaths wondering what he was up to... and he didn’t disappoint anyone, for his fingers started drumming on the coin like button-keys of the bass clarinet which looks more like a saxophone. The tapping sound came out to us through a percussion instrument, both mellow and yet with a dreamy, haunting quality to it –the rhythm, the complex and intriguing rhythm he tapped out soon got echoed through the masterful imitation on the Tabla, where Devasthali took the lead soon and lent more complexity to it. Presently it turned into a tune, and with the mouthpiece screwed back on Riessler was up to his frenzied playing in no time. The Hurdy Gurdy took a break.

Only to return with more varied sounds, a larger variety of rhythmic patterns and improvisation at the same frantic pace. Clastrier has an enormous sense of balance, for he keeps dancing around on one leg as he plays, and sometimes he thumps the wooden body of the Hurdy Gurdy impatiently clucking his tongue and with a hand gesture that seems to say what the heck... his sense of balance thus makes him suddenly change from a frantic pace to a much smoother, softer tone that he pushes out from the lead section of his imaginary orchestra and plays a soothing melody. But only for a while, as soon as the pumping starts, it’s the same frenzied pace, the same avalanche of truly bewildering sounds.

I will round up this impression by saying that the concert was truly successful in the sense, though some oldies may have been put off by the Free Jazz teetering on the Avant-Garde content-wise, the overall effect on the predominantly younger crowd was electric. The impromptu clapping, the acknowledgement of this special European sense of humor that calls for no mastery over the English language, the instantaneous and involuntary response of listeners to the body language of musicians, and restrained applause at the right time –pointed to the correct assimilation indeed. What's more the predominantly adolescent audience lapped it up so greedily that none of them got up or left even during the intermission. Free Jazz lives !.

Bravo Riessler, Clastrier and Devasthali, a good job! And thanks to Max Muller Bhavan and Goethe Institut, Daimler Chrysler, Poona Music Society and Poona Jazz Club for making it all happen. Great fare indeed.

Cheerio, till next time...

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