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Concert Review: The Ari Roland Quartet

It must be the high season for jazz in Mumbai and jazz fans in the city are not complaining

Sunil Sampat Dec 21, 2017

The Ari Roland Quartet concert was a truly wonderful evening of jazz brought to us by the U.S. State Department.

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After a full three-day NCPA International Jazz Festival held between November 24th to 26th to full houses, Mumbai had the very pleasant jazz experience of the Ari Roland Quartet from New York City playing an evening session at the new Mukesh Patel Auditorium in Vile Parle on November 28th. The U.S. Consulate in Mumbai and Namaste America had organized this concert. Band leader Ari Roland, playing upright acoustic bass has come as a “Jazz Ambassador” on this India tour. Concerts are also planned in Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Roland’s band consists of Zaid Nasser playing alto saxophone, Keith Balla on drums and Pasquale Grasso on acoustic guitar. The quartet has a tight sound and the absence of a piano in this set up does not lessen the impact on the audience.

The band opened with “Blues in the Closet,” continued with “Georgia On My Mind,” “Lester Leaps In” and “Summertime” in which Nasser vocally led the audience with the very popular lyrics. Nasser was also featured playing his alto on “It’s a Wonderful World” which Roland introduced as “from the greatest ever jazz musician, Louis Armstrong.”

This quartet has four very accomplished and knowledgeable jazz performers whose skills have been honed in the cauldron of the New York jazz scene. Nasser has a precise tone with plenty of sensitivity for the lyrics of the composition. This was most evident in the three tunes from popular Bollywood films that were played by the quartet to loud cheers from the audience.

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Grasso is a very fine jazz guitarist and plays with a lot of artistry and warmth. Roland is a master of his trade; a very fine bassist, he has played with Betty Carter, Dakota Staton and Harry Konick Jr. among many others. The drummer, Balla obviously thinks deeply about his jazz drumming. At a workshop conducted the previous day, he was seen demonstrating the different techniques of ‘swing’ and ‘bop’ drumming at the Furtado School of Music and the technique developed by Max Roach, arguably the greatest ever jazz drummer. Balla is a fine young exponent of modern jazz drumming.

The concluding piece at the concert was a collaborative effort between Ari Roland’s quartet with Carnatic vocalist Vasumati Badrinath, who sang the raga Darbari Kanada. While this symbolized the joining of (musical) hands across the seas, the jury is still out about whether these two great music forms can ever “fuse” together. I cannot say for sure.

It was a truly wonderful evening of jazz brought to us by the U.S. State Department. Jazz is certainly America’s greatest cultural gift to the world and one hopes they will continue to share this artistic wealth with India regularly and frequently. We look forward to more concerts like this.

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