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Gig Review: Merkaba at NCPA, Mumbai

The newly formed jazz/R&B/soul quintet co-led by ace guitarist Sanjay Divecha and vocalist Vasundhara Vee awed the audience with their fine set

Sunil Sampat May 17, 2016
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Merkaba at NCPA, Mumbai

Newly formed jazz/R&B/soul quintet Merkaba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Up to now in jazz circles, ‘Friday the thirteenth’ was known for the Thelonius Monk composition of this name and its famous rendition with Sonny Rollins playing in Monk’s band. Decades later, a highly memorable concert was heard on Friday the thirteenth May, 2016 at the Experimental theatre at the NCPA, Mumbai. A quintet co-led by guitarist Sanjay Divecha and Delhi-based vocalist Vasundhara Vee played a high quality set for a full house. The band, Merkaba, also had stalwarts Gino Banks on drums, Karan Joseph on keyboards and Sheldon D’Silva on his six-stringed electric bass.

There were two remarkable aspects to this concert. One, the material was all original [11 pieces] and written for the concert and the second that a large number of Mumbai musicians were seen in the audience. This is notable as one rarely sees many musicians coming to concerts not involving them. I have always wondered why this is so!

The complexity and intensity of the music and vocal arrangements were testimony to the hard work from the band.  Tunes like “Ink on Ivory”, “Flowers” – but not roses! – “Water it Well” and “Privilege” were not just reflections of a composer’s moods; the songwriter, Vasundhara – who is fast becoming a ‘musician’s musician’ – has demonstrated a social sensitivity through her lyrics, but had digestible social messages. “We play this music because we are privileged” said Vasundhara. The unspoken subtext was, “let’s not forget those who might not be as lucky”. It came straight from the heart.

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The only suggestion we might want to offer the band is to perhaps include some known music in the mix. This is for the more casual listener in the audience. The intensity of their compositions might overwhelm a mixed audience! Go easy on them, just a little kindness!
For their remarkable concert – hopefully the first of many — we need to salute this band in general and the duo of Sanjay and Vasundhara in particular.

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