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Concert Review: Igor Butman at N.C.P.A., Mumbai

The Russian tenor saxophonist thrilled a packed house with jazz classics along with surprise performances from young Indian artists


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Igor Butman

Igor Butman. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

This is becoming a habit, a nice habit. Igor Butman shows up in Mumbai every year, courtesy Jazz Addicts and plays a lively set at the NCPA to a full house of people who go away happy. On October 3rd, a Monday, an audience of about a thousand braved the rains  and showed up at the Tata Theatre for an evening with the  Igor Butman sextet. This Russian band included an exceptional vocalist, Frantine Prituola who is only partially Russian and therein lies a tale. The other ‘part’ of Ms.Prituola  belongs to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

That’s not all. Frantine is (somehow) Australian but actually lives in Miami! That’s the simple part. Frantine speaks and sings in six languages – and sings in at least the three languages she used on Monday without a trace of unfamiliarity or alienness. If Fantine were not a singer, she would surely have been a model with her sense of style and dress. Her singing of “Coma un Bolero”  followed by “Besame Mucho,” both in Spanish were the peaks of the concert. Later she also sang the old favorite “Moscow Nights,” popularized as “Midnight in Moscow” in Russian. On the Delhi leg of the tour Fantine had also sung in French. Mr.Butman was in fine form on his tenor sax and reeled away with crowd pleasers “Mack the Knife,” “Fever,” “A Tisket A Tasket,” “Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Lady is a Tramp” with Frantine vocalising on  most of them.

On the previous night, Igor and his band had held a jazz workshop during which a visually impaired pianist in the audience, Nitish Sonawane sat in with the band to play “Blue Bossa” and “Take Five.” During Sunday’s concert, Igor Butman invited Nitesh on stage to play on these two tunes with the band. Nitesh sounded very good and certainly held his own within the band. Among the audience during the workshop, a young lady, Mrinalini Tiwari sat in during “Take Five” and introduced an aalap in the song. She too sang with the band at the NCPA concert. This sense of respect and generosity on part of the Russians was most encouraging for the young talents and appreciated by all.

Also during the workshop, this writer had asked Fantine (who had said she grew up with music from Disney) if she would sing “Someday My Prince Will Come” from the Disney production of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.’ Saying that she had never sung it before, she attempted it during the workshop, and to her great credit, worked on it overnight and sang it on Monday. Not to leave rock fans behind, she also sang “Light my Fire,” although her rendition was closer to Jose Feliciano’s than to that of Jim Morrison.

For the sentimentalists, the band signed off with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The band was very well balanced with a very young guitarist Yvgeny Poboziy (who was outstanding), a fine acoustic bassist, Sergei Korchagin, pianist Nick Lewinovsky and drummer Edward Zizak.

On his last Mumbai trip, Igor Butman rushed to the airport to fly to Sochi in Russia to play for their President, Mr Putin on an urgent summons from the leader. Although less dramatic, this time around Igor was to play in Moscow the night after his Mumbai concert and in Washington the next night! Thereafter he will be performing with Wynton Marsalis also in Washington. When we asked him whether jet lag and fatigue was not a factor, Mr Butman raised his glass of whiskey and said, “This helps a lot. Also I try to sleep when I can.” And we thought it was Russian vodka that did the trick!

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