India Sings the Blues: Two New Album Releases
Two recently released albums showcase the depth of jazz and blues talent in India, as well as their potent combination with Indian classical music.
The first album is Adil & Vasundhara’s Ampersand. The Delhi based duo created the band ‘Adil & Vasundhara’ in 2009, with Adil on lead guitar and Vasundhara on vocals. Their compositions mix Indian urban themes with the tapestry of jazz, blues, funk and soul. Adil cites the Mahavishnu Orchestra as influences, while Vasundhara picks Richard Bona, Wayne Shorter and Corinne Bailey Rae.
Their first full-length 10-track album was released this year in a tour across several cities, and the Bangalore launch was at the B-Flat music pub. I caught the band’s performance at the launch and the next day at the cozy rooftop Via Milano restaurant.
The debut album features appearances by Indian artistes Louiz Banks, Ranjit Barot, Loy Mendonsa and Sanjay Divecha. The album is a celebration of the power of collaboration between artistes and shows that the music industry is not always about cut-throat competition and one-upmanship. The lineup of the band on the road varies, and includes keyboardist Rohit Gupta, bassist Jayant Manchanda and drummer Siddharth Jain.
Each track on the album is a treat, featuring superb vocals and tight instrumentation. ‘Pinocchio Times’ is about the tough choices people make in their career tracks, juggling jobs versus passion. ‘Refuge’ is dedicated to the spirit of survival of the refugees who came to New Delhi from Pakistan at the time of partition; many have rebuilt their lives and moved on.
‘Dog Days’ is a fine bluesy track, and ‘Creek Funk’ is indeed superbly funky. The scat-singing by Vasundhara is woven around the bass groove and is absolutely outstanding; the track is inspired by Mumbai’s famous Versova Creek.
‘Parantheses’ is sung in French, reflecting Vasundhara’s wide lyrical talents; she has also performed in over a dozen countries. The last two tracks are proud celebrations and interpretations of the blues – ‘Blue Bashing’ (about couples fighting in rooms with thin walls!), and the ballad ‘Not Just Another Blues.’
Jazz is taken in a very different direction in the second newly released album, Cosmic Chant, by the Rajeev Raja Combine. Rajeev Raja spent 25 years in advertising, culminating as national creative director at DDB Mudra. Now he has returned to his passion, music, in two ways: launching BrandMusiq, a consultancy that focuses on sonic branding, and composing his debut Indo-jazz fusion album, Cosmic Chant, recently launched in Mumbai.
The group, Rajeev Raja Combine, blends jazz, Indian classical and Latin music. The lineup in the 8-track album features Rajeev Raja on flute, Chandana Bala on Carnatic vocals, Hitesh Dhutia on guitars, Vinayak Netke on tabla, JD on bass, and Vaibhav Wavikar on drums and percussion. Rajeev has played with Indian musicians such as Shankar Mahadevan, Taufiq and Fazal Quereshi, and Susmit Sen of Indian Ocean.
The two opening tracks, Drone and Nightingale’s Song, set the mood for the pleasant tone of the album. The energy picks up with Mulligan Mood, and Grunge is decidedly more rock-flavoured. Cosmic Chant is a superb world music treat, blending flamenco with Indian classical music and jazz. The track Turkish Delight takes the audience to more groove territory.
The album was produced at ENZY Studios in Mumbai, the newest addition to the city’s roster of recording studios. It is conceptualised and managed by Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri Entertainment’s scion Nishchal Zaveri. Coming from a famed jewellery family, Nishchal studied Hindustani classical vocals, tabla and piano in India and the US. Quite a leap there, from jewellery to music — but then both are so precious!