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A Global Collective of Musicians Weave Fusion in the Capital

A total of 10 musicians and Indian tabla artist Shahid Khan Kawa moved from jazz to European folk and classical music

Anurag Tagat Feb 11, 2020

The full collective of 10 musicians performing (with tabla artist Shahid Khan Kawa) at HCL Confluence 2020 in New Delhi. Photo: HCL Confluence

On a cold winter night in New Delhi’s Leela Palace, there were 10 New York-based musicians from 10 different countries out to prove the importance of cultural diversity. Six months in the works, the HCL Confluence – A Fusion of Harmony concert which took place on February 5th offered a seamless sonic exhibition of Western classical, jazz, fusion, folk traditions from Europe and more.

While it was an invite-only evening with an eye on funding musical instruments for schools, it was entirely about the performance (and to some extent, the food) at HCL Confluence. Although all musicians were clearly rooted in a jazz education, they seemed to use that to reach the end goal of a multi-genre evening of pieces that ranged from Spanish bull-fighting songs to Japanese folk, French waltz, Swiss polka, Irish traditional music and more.

French violinist Adrien Chevalier at HCL Confluence 2020. Photo: HCL Confluence

Right from the beginning of the concert, it was apparent that these 10 musicians were completely in tune with each other, almost like watching instrumentalists play relay, passing the baton flawlessly, especially between British harp player Ben Creighton Griffiths and the formidable string section comprising French violinist Adrien Chevalier, German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and Austrian viola artist Benjamin von Gutzeit.

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Soon enough, the clarinet and trumpet combo of Switzerland’s Linus Wyrsch and Swedish artist Bjorn Ingelstam (respectively) established seriously groovy jazz rhythms, anchored by Bulgarian bass player Martin Doykin. Through the course of about 15 pieces the collective also deftly changed the mood of the room – melancholic with Japanese pianist Go Kikuchi’s piano-led noir jazz style and other times tranquil and hymn-like for Denmark guitarist Jerome Brajtman’s turn to lead. Italian accordion artist Roberto Gervasi had shone early on in the concert, but regularly added folksy hues in the mix. In between gleeful and dramatic flourishes, the collective also attempted Turkish and Jewish folk numbers, which were minimal yet striking in their use of clarinet and piano. Often, one instrument would be emulating something completely different, like Chevalier’s violin conjuring the energy of a flute, whereas Ingelstam’s trumpet delivery had everyone transfixed.

Swedish trumpeter Bjorn Ingelstam at HCL Confluence 2020 in New Delhi. Photo: HCL Confluence

The most recognizable songs of the night remained “The Blue Danube,” the Johann Strauss waltz composition that was enchanting, plus the intense Indian rendition of national song “Vande Mataram” with tabla artist Shahid Khan Kawa and an encore that included the Qawwali song “Mast Qalandar.” It might have seemed a bit improvised and not exactly rehearsed but it wrapped up an evening of great musicianship.

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While the concert had picked the right musicians on stage, most of the off-stage compering was riddled with mispronunciations and butchering of names. The intention was pure but a little rehearsal goes a long way considering the artists were excellent. Even though phones were meant to be switched off, many walked around speaking during some of the most quietened solos of the performance. HCL may continue to deliver formidable music in India, but a few basics in concert culture may need focus along the way.