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Jazzmandu 2005: A Musical Expedition Ends

Mark Sabbatini By

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(All About Jazz exclusive: Two songs by a variety of musicians during a day five jam session generally considered the festival's best performance are available in this MP3 file (click to listen in a separate window, or right-click to download). Many thanks to those recording the event and sharing the file).

It sounds harsh, but the world would be a better place without Jazzmandu happening this November.

Blame the world, not the festival. Nepal's biggest jazz event is normally in March, but King Gyanendra's Feb. 1 dissolving of the democratic government in favor of monarchy rocked a country already reeling from civil war with Maoist insurgents and other political turmoil. Delaying Jazzmandu until November became the only realistic option in the wake of international travel warnings and other problems.

Peace demonstrations are also a seemingly daily occurrence, and Jazzmandu players and organizers made themselves heard on the final day of this year's eight-day festival. Few expected serious political impact, but setting a mood for the moment and passing the message in a different way to a different crowd in the outside world was meaningful enough.

"There's a lot of negative press about Nepal's situation," said Tipriti Kharbangar, lead singer for the Indian blues band Soulmate, while picking out a set of cowbells to play during the parade. "This is a chance to put forward a better message."

The Jazz Parade For Peace was one of three events during the final weekend. A "Best Of Jazzmandu" series of concerts by individual bands on day seven and a "Jazzmandu All-Star Jazz Jam" on the final evening offered lots polish in two top-tier hotel gardens, but also the most forgettable night of the festival.

The setting at the "Best Of Jazzmandu" concert at the Shangri-La Hotel was lush, with linen tables and now-familiar fire pits. The buffet featured dishes with cute names like Nicoise by Moonlight (tuna/bean/potato/tomato/anchovy casserole) and Poulet Ray Charles (chicken with nuts - not sure how the legend's name translates to those last two words).

The evening itself was a dud - so much so I left around halftime.

Every festival has down days and the problem is the audience and musicians weren't connecting. Attendees - I wouldn't call most of them listeners - were seated at the tables well back from the stage and spent at least as much time talking among themselves and concentrating on dinner. That sapped energy out of the music and, having heard better most of the week, it was discouraging to watch.

I'll avoid blame since I have a hypocritical anti-snobbery bias - I can't feel at home without Internet access and Western-style toilets. It also means my summary of the night is short, hence the combining of the final two days into this article. For those interested in a more optimistic viewpoint, I'm including intermittent excepts from the Kathmandu Post in (parentheses and italics).

The familiar opening pattern of mellow folk jazz didn't help, although it's safe to assume there aren't many repeat listeners at the big events beyond participants and festival supporters. Spanish guitarist/vocalist Dimple Singh Nandra teamed with flutist Binod Katwal on a few harmonious peace-theme songs that, similar to a concert on day two, were highlighted mostly by Katwal's darting fills. Also familiar, but maybe doing their best performance, were Canadian vocalist Carmen Genest and classical guitarist David Jacques, playing mostly different standards and French-language than the ones from most of their sets earlier during the week. The highlight was an original at the end featuring Jacques' guitar dropping in and out throughout, and vocals more varied in volume and pitch than normal for Genest (who continued her strong even-keel presence). But the most disappointing thing was never getting a chance during the week to hear Jacques play up to his credentials - I noted in an earlier update his resume is lengthy and varied - as his role was mostly background rhythm.

(From the Kathmandu Post: Peaceful and energizing...(Nandra's) smooth resonant voice, neither too mild nor to hard on the ears, coupled with the angelic and melodious flute playing of Binod Katwal had the audience's senses distracted from food to the stage. Canadian pair Carmen and David were up next and no matter how many times you listen to them, you will never get tired. Their flamboyant jazz, sprinkled with tinges of French, is totally enthralling.)

Evidence of the audience disconnect came during the next set by the Kathamndu fusion band Cadenza, where leader/drummer Nabin Chettri couldn't get the hands of most listeners off their dinner forks and wine glasses with the blistering full-kit solos that have roused every other crowd to date. Ultimately, the bands covered the sound and tempo basics, but the solos were lacking the energy and creativeness of their better shows during the festival.


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