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Gig Review: The Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music Jazz Concert, Mumbai

After the high from the first set, we were bewildered by the contrast of the second set

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Sunil Sampat Mar 22, 2019

Argentinian guitairst Tomas Murmis and vocalist Patricia Laura Ramon during their performance at the Experimental Theatre NCPA in Mumbai last week. Photo: Narendra Dangiya

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In a live concert; one can often gauge the quality of the music in store from the first few notes played by the band. It was so when the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM) jazz band played last weekend at the Experimental Theatre at the NCPA in Mumbai. Yet it was a concert played in two parts; it went from being a jazz concert of high quality somehow dropping to a level of mediocrity.

Vocalist Patricia Laura Ramon opened the show with a very pleasing version of the classic Bossa Nova song “Desafinado.” She sang the lyrics in the original Portuguese language. The brilliant backing by guitarist Tomas Murmis and support from the rhythm section made for potentially an exciting jazz concert. The band continued with “I Thought About You,” “Time After Time,” “But Not For Me” and “Misty.” This was a well chosen collection of known but not overused jazz standards. Ramon excelled in each rendition with the  classy phrasing of a deft jazz singer. Her charming accent when she pronounced  ‘Meesty’ and ‘keeten’ (for Misty and kitten) reminded one of Astrud Gilberto and her equally charming pronunciations.  Gilberto is from Brazil and Ramon is from neighboring Argentina.

Also from Argentina is Murmis who is a fine, sensitive guitarist. He and Ramon ended the first set in duo format with a few folk and popular songs from Argentina. At one point Ramon led into one of these songs with a beautiful aalap — she is apparently a student of vocal Hindustani classical music.  The aalap blended so seamlessly into the folk song that one had to confirm with her that it was indeed an aalap she rendered and not a part of her folk song.

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After the high from the first set, we were bewildered by the contrast of the second set. It opened without the two impressive Argentineans; the piano, bass and drums trio came on and played a fairly tepid — an almost night club, drink-in- hand music for most of the second set. They played “Caravan,”  “What a Wonderful World,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “Spain” and others, with the pianist doubling as a vocalist. It was a good sing-along set but a little out of place for concert hall jazz.

It was a case of two concerts in one with most of the audience wondering when the guitarist and vocalist would return to perform. While entertaining, the quality of the concert was diminished perceptibly by featuring the rhythm section alone. We are left wondering why such a bizarre format was chosen by the musicians. It just wasn’t logical. Sense was restored when Ramon and Murmis finally rejoined the band for the last few minutes of the evening’s concert. She sang another Jobim classic, “Corcovado,” “Alone Together,” “Fly Me To The Moon” and two more standards, “Fools Rush In” and for the encore, ”Skylark,” restoring the high standard of the first set.

Each of the five musicians, which included Indonesians Rudolf Jacob on drums and Martin Lukman on bass and Dominic Pereira from Goa on piano were accomplished artists. Ramon, with her wonderful voice had chosen her songs with care to reach a knowledgeable jazz audience and is a possible star in the making. Murmis on guitar was brilliant. The concert fell short of being brilliant by the sheer non-inclusion in the music of Murmis and Ramon for almost 40 percent of the evening; it was like leaving out your star performers in a sports final!

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