Friday, November 28, 2008

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Codebook plus Arun Ghosh - London Jazz Festival day 3

Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, Sunday 16th November

London based Manchester exile Arun Ghosh has had quite a year, releasing his debut album ‘Northern Namaste’, and being selected for the ‘Take Five’ artists development scheme. As a new batch of ‘Take Five’ musicians get ready to carry the torch this week, we reaped the rewards of this year’s scheme tonight at the Southbank Purcell Room.

Ghosh took to the stage with his trademark swagger and launched into a fierce solo introduction to ‘Aurora’. As the band joined in however, the track was missing some of its usual impact, essentially due to the absent piano and saxophone heard on the record and previous gigs. Special guest Corey Mwamba's vibraphone provided tonight’s chordal architecture, the soft attack of which lacked the depth and punch of the piano, but he played with great charm and energy. After a few tunes my ears did adapt to the altered sonority, but there was a little too much timbral overlap with Ghosh’s clarinet.

Nevertheless, the bengali scale based ‘Deshkar’ and ‘Bondhu’ tunes were, as always, truly joyful and uplifting. New track ‘Mint’, a collaboration with composer Fumiko Miyachi, commissioned for tonight as part of the SPNM Shorts scheme, was largely successful having a noticeably different feel to the rest of the set, the chords and rhythm being more in a classic pop vein.

Dr Das’ electric bass playing was a little woolly and unsubtle compared to the double bass we often hear in Ghosh's line up, but it played its part adequately. Pat Ilingworth on drums had a lightness of touch that synched quite exquisitely with Rastko Rasic’s darbuka. By the second half of the set the band had staked out their turf, and we were treated to some forceful playing all round. Mwamba almost fell over backwards at one point with the momentum of his improvising.

Saxophone player Rudresh Mahanthappa’s ‘Codebook’ acoustic quartet was an altogether different affair. The opening ‘Killer’ was true to its name, being a full on attack reminiscent of the sixties avant-garde. The drumming of Dan Weiss was about as un-grooved as it’s possible to get, but his in-your-face machine gun snare was highly engaging nonetheless. ‘Playing with Stones’ was the only overtly indo-jazz track, being surprisingly similar to Arun Ghosh’s ‘Deshkar’. The most effective piece was the sax and piano duo track ‘Common Ground’, with Vijay Iyer‘s impressionistic piano flourishes complimenting Mahanthappa’s outfield sonic excursions perfectly. It was hard to judge the complex double bass playing of Carlo de Rosa in the aural mush.

Much of the material was fast, free and busy, but fundamentally lacked impact for all its bluster and bravado, often being indistinct and overbearing. Many made for the exits, and in all honesty I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic however uncomfortable that always feels. Codebook provided a few moments of insight here and there, but on the whole they weren’t a good buy.

Review reproduced courtesy of the London Jazz Festival and Jazzwise Magazine.

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