East London’s London International Arts Festival, under Jyotsna Srikanth’s curatorship and organised by Dhruv Arts, took place between 10 and 12 August, parallel to a local sporting event. Smack dab in the middle of LIAF, Jyotsna Srikanth, a violinist to be depended upon to come up with surprises on stage, unveiled her current ‘Indo-jazz project’ – as she back-announced it in a short interview with DJ Ritu after the octet’s performance.
This particular Jyotsna Srikanth Project fielded her and Chris Haigh on violin, playing complementary styles, several times varied within a single composition, something made manifest in the second piece performed called Haunting Thoughts during which she slipped between Carnatic and Western bowing and techniques. The other musicians in this relatively new line-up were keyboardist Shadrach Solomon, Victor Obsust on double-bass, Eleazar on electric guitar, kit drummer Karthik Mani, Nish on electronic percussion and Ansuman Biswas who made his way through an array of world percussion to obtain sonifications from Hang, tabla, shakers, rattles and berimbau.
The JSP that is currently performing bears scant resemblance to Jyotsna Srikanth’s Carnatic Jazz CD (reviewed in Pulse, summer 2011). While they played Haunting Thoughts, a piece using ragam ‘Sallapam’ as its launch pad, and Insight, a composition of hers, similarly using ‘Chakravaka’, the pieces revealed advancing stages of development. Just as the opening fast-tempo Sprint (set in raga ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’) was coloured by Ansuman Biswas’ judicious deployment of Hang, Haunting Thoughts was likewise greatly enhanced by his percussion effects, notably bowed waterphone – an instrument that looks like a sonic birdcage. Solomon’s electric piano sound on the latter piece also contributed mightily to the composition’s reshaping.
Of the new pieces, Irish Folk Dance proved a yes-no-perhaps experience. Although the witty bodhrán-like frame drum and borderline-ska pap-a-tup keyboards assisted on the plus side, overall passages felt too much like a jig pastiche, at one point melodically perilously close to Lord of the Dance– or Riverdance-isms – filthier words in many Irish circles than much of Ireland’s rich and varied cussing repertoire. Canter, aside from its Solomon-triggered horse neigh samples, Nish’s coconut-shell clip-clops and Biswas’ tabla, had a delightful non-musical aspect. Whether intentional or serendipitous, for much of Canter, the stage-mounted rotational lights bathed the performers in My Little Pony soft pinks and magentas. (Keep that in, Jyotsna, no matter what the rough boys say.)
One thing that the evening’s ideas and performances continually prompted was ideas. Insight took on new hues. Solomon’s santoor-effect, later space-age keyboard and closing fuzz-tone sounds, the occasional Hindustani violin feel, kit drum, drum pad and world percussion filigrees in particular planted hybrid-mutant R.D. Burman seeds. Imagine if the JSP went kitchen-sink and composed and arranged Indo-jazz in the multiple styles of ‘Yunhi Gate Raho’(‘Keep singing’), as delivered by Kishore Kumar, S.P. Balasubrahmanyan and Burman’s crack crew. But not the CD version. It would have to be the version from G.P. Sippy’s Saagar…