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Report: World Jazz Festival, Mumbai

The event took place this past weekend at the city-based St. Andrew’s Auditorium

Sunil Sampat Feb 26, 2020

Netherlands jazz outfit New York Round Midnight Orchestra performing at the World Jazz Festival in Mumbai this past weekend. Photo: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Events

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Mumbai is certainly getting savvy about jazz and the number of jazz buffs in the city is on the increase. This was in evidence at the World Jazz Festival which took place at Mumbai’s St. Andrew’s Auditorium between February 22nd and 23rd and organized by event agency The Banyan Tree; it had near full houses on both days.

Everybody plays jazz but they all play it slightly differently from each other. And each country has its own jazz flavor. And each listener likes his or her jazz sound a little different from the next person. The World Jazz Festival had featured jazz that would satisfy most tastes, a unique achievement for a maiden foray into this genre by Banyan Tree.

The festival was opened by South African pianist Ntando Ngcapu who played a couple of originals in trio format. Except for Abdullah Ibrahim on piano and to some extent trumpeter Hugh Masakela, one has not found African musicians playing jazz with a feel for the blues or swing. However, Ngcapu brought a certain gentleness and sensitivity to his play. He played a fine version of the jazz classic “Body & Soul” in the company of guest artist, saxophonist Alexander Beets. The horn player somehow featured with each of the four groups at the festival; he adapted his sound to those of each band, which was an enjoyable feature of the event!

There was something for every jazz taste at this festival. From easy listening, funk,  jazz-rock, ballads, fusion including Hindustani music inputs in a jazz format with sitar, vocal and tabla, swing right up to bebop and the big band sound, it was all there!

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For this writer the stand out group was the New York Round Midnight Orchestra from the Netherlands, ably led and conducted by Beets (pronounced Bates), who also played the tenor saxophone. His brother, Marius Beets, who plays the upright acoustic bass, had made the complex arrangements for the music from this band. Their fine vocalist, Deborah Carter connected the dots in their musical menu by inviting the audience to travel with her to New York, arguably the home of modern jazz, as she explored the music of Thelonius Monk – who wrote the jazz classic “Round Midnight” after which the band is named, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Count Basie. The band’s arrangement of Basie’s “Jumpin at the Woodside” was the high point of the two-day festival. Special mention is also due to their amazing tenor sax man Ben van den Dungen and pianist Sebastian van Bavel, both thoroughly steeped in the tradition of jazz and delightful to listen to.

Saskia Laroo was marvelous on the muted trumpet and her band played an entertaining, lively set of jazz-rock, hip-hop and rap (“spoken poetry” as Laroo called it) from Adeline Tjon Tam Pau from South America. The vocal support from Laroo and pianist Warren Byrd made for a happy set. This was a new avatar of Laroo, who on her previous visits to Mumbai has played straight, acoustic jazz trumpet. She was equally good here, although we missed at least one number from her in her earlier style.

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The band from Thailand, led by Koh Mr.Saxman was the surprise package from the festival. The late King of Thailand was himself a jazz saxophone player and encouraged jazz in his country but, surprisingly, this exposure to Koh Mr. Saxman and his group was the first view of a Thai group at a jazz festival in Mumbai. The first of many, we hope. Koh is a skilled, entertaining saxophone player.

Like Carter, Thai vocalist Pui Duangpon also took the audience on a musical tour. Starting with a Thai song, moving on to a Bollywood song in Hindi (from Aashiqui 2), Duangpon got into serious jazz singing with “La Vien Rose” from France, “Cheek to Cheek” from the American songbook, “Sway,” with the distinctive Cuban arrangement from Perez Prado and a taste of Brazil as well. It was an enjoyable journey.

The finale involved all the musicians from the festival on stage together for two numbers: a vocal duet with Americans Carter and Byrd with an almost big band support from all the instrumentalists and a fabulous version of Herbie Hancock’s, “Watermelon Man” with the horn section comprising three saxophones and two trumpets leaving the audience on a musical high.

The acoustics at St.Andrew’s were superb, enhancing the jazz experience, and the audiences over the two days must have gone home thoroughly satisfied with the music. It is to be hoped that this wonderful initiative from The Banyan Tree to arrange a jazz festival will be a regular event. Theirs is a fine contribution to the local jazz scene.

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