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Gig Review: Louiz Banks’ Blast from The Past

The Mumbai-based pianist thrilled the audience at the NCPA this past weekend

Sunil Sampat Nov 01, 2021

Mumbai-based veteran pianist Louiz Banks. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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I’m not sure which ingredient got the adrenaline pumping — was it the music — or the fact of attending a concert in the flesh, and not on an electronic screen. It had to be a bit of both these factors. It was a wonderful feeling to attend a live concert after a COVID-19 induced hiatus. Suddenly, normal activity seems thrilling, like a breath of oxygen-laden fresh air from an open door.

It was literally that, as the NCPA had opened its doors to live performances, albeit very cautiously, with strict health protocols and 50 percent of maximum audience occupancy.

The concert was very entertaining and enjoyable; relief and liberation from lockdown contributed to audience approval. The song list for the performance comprised well-known, popular tunes that the cross-section of the audience was familiar with. They sang along and often danced in the aisles to their favorite songs from Abba, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and some others.

The band, led by Louiz Banks consisted of Sheldon D’Silva on bass, Gino Banks on drums, Kush Upadhyay on electric guitar and Rahul Jhunjhunwala on keyboards. But the actual “keys” were held by the maestro himself, Mr. Louiz Banks who held the show together with a minimum of fuss. Three vocalists, Trisha Rego, Shanelle Ferreira and Thomson Andrews completed the band.

The core trio of Louiz, Sheldon and Gino (could be a law firm of Banks, D’Silva and Banks) are now like a well-oiled, powerful eight-cylinder engine and react to each other instinctively. I cannot think of a longer running piano-led trio in jazz anywhere. On the few occasions during the concert when they played as a trio, one heard new levels of genius. Alas, those moments were few. The good thing was that the rest of the band was pretty good too. Thompson Andrews has a versatile style and great delivery and did justice to his chosen song list. One particularly liked his approach to Ray Charles’ evergreen “Georgia on my Mind” and the clever rock n’ roll medley of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog” and the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” The rendering of a couple of Abba songs and Proud Mary from CCR was filled with nostalgia, as was Stevie Wonder’s evergreen “Isn’t She Lovely.” John Lennon’s “Imagine: hit the spot. It never fails. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was as lively as ever but we particularly enjoyed a tune made famous by Nat King Cole — “L.O.V.E” — sung by Thomson with a fine piano solo from Louiz.

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The performance of Sheldon D’Silva on his six-string electric bass was at its usual dazzling best (including a dramatic five-minute solo) and Gino Banks on drums showed us why he is arguably India’s best all-round drummer. Louiz’ trio was an engine with new spark plugs!

If one was allowed requests, “Superstition,” “What’d I Say” and “Mack the Knife” would have been high on my list. Maybe next time.

Amusingly, although the trio of vocalists sang Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” from a few generations before their time — they were dancing the jive to the melody, a complete contradiction. But it added to the mood of the blast — as they said, “from the past.”

It was, for Louiz and some in the audience with long memories, indeed a Blast from the Past. As Louiz said excitedly to this writer after the show, “This is exactly the kind of stuff I did at the Blue Fox in Calcutta, maybe 50 years ago.” I had to tell him I had heard him do that! That was also the state of ‘jazz’ in restaurants all over Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta up to the mid-1970s.

Speaking of Louiz Banks, here is a subjective observation. If we were to visualize a high-rise building, Louiz occupies several upper floors as composer, bandleader and arranger and even talent mentor. However, to this writer, Louiz Banks absolutely occupies the penthouse of this building as a jazz pianist. I could listen endlessly to him playing jazz piano in trio format. He is the master in this mode but my constant grudge is that these performances are few and far between. I suppose it is the burden of versatility that has him divide his time to his other talents.

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Louiz, please invite us to that elusive penthouse of yours for an entire evening of acoustic jazz piano!

And let us please have plenty more live music. It’s good for the musicians, good for the audience and good for the soul. A happy departing audience is the best endorsement of a concert.

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