Wednesday 9 October 2013

Arun Ghosh

 Band on The Wall, Manchester, October 8, 2013 

The night is essentially a confrontation between Indian spirituality and Madchester high spirits, with more of the former in the first set, devoted to new album A South Asian Suite, and more of the latter in the second set, where exuberance prevails over exhilaration, if the two can be separated (Arun Ghosh doesn’t make the distinction).   

Actually he makes an impact before the first note is played, as he and his musicians take the stage resplendent in Asian dress. Ghosh rejects the traditional jazz dress options of both the zoot-suited hipster and the scruffbag muso. More than a fashion statement, it’s a gesture that conveys singularity, smartness and pride, all qualities of the music.  

South Asian Suite presents a tapestry of original jazz tunes cast in traditional Indian folk styles. It’s pan-Asian, ranging from the tenderness of ‘River Song’ to the clamourous urgency of ‘Sufi Stomp’. 

The music is marked by the striking complementary teamwork of Ghosh’s skyrocketing clarinet and Chris Williams’ earthy alto saxophone. Each a compelling voice, they cast a mesmerising weave in unison. Zoe Rahman’s piano, so sensitive yet brimful with joy, is perfectly suited to the high altitudes of A South Asian Suite, as she scatters rippling arpeggios on ‘Mountain Song’ or rhapsodises rapturously on ‘River Song’.  

And then there is the pure visual appeal of a Ghosh performance, and it’s always rewarding to try and puzzle the twin roles of conductor and dancer in the leader’s body language. So, a graceful flap of the hand seems to mean “bring it on!”; a gentle wave of the left hand means “be gentle”; a downward motion of the right hand alerts to an imminent change of dynamic; a nod  to a colleague says “yes, come in now”. Whereas whirling hands amid back and forth swaying, or an outstretched arm pointing heavenward simply indicates that a trance is beginning to take hold. 

The second set presents the greatest hits, adapted to the organic style of the new ensemble. The energy of ‘Caliban’s Revenge’ and ‘Longsight Lagoon’ is terrific, interrupted only by the smoochy delicacy of ‘Come Closer’, but resumed in full for a tune described only as “the anthem” (in a nod to Ghosh’s Manchester roots, it turns out to be ‘Come Home’ by James). Zoe Rahman is a benign and distant presence now, endorsing the laddish high spirits with a deft touch here and there (it may be the sound mix at the front of the stage, of course), whilst the lads in the rhythm section are staggeringly forceful and tight. Dig the whooping, sliding chords when Liron Donin slaps on electric bass for ‘Longsight Lagoon’. Pat Illingworth swings the group with power and even aggression when called for, whereas Nilesh Gulhane on tabla supplies the non-Western colours and rhythms. 

It’s a measure of his mastery that Ghosh forges a true individuality out of the struggle for identity. I was going to write ‘maturity’, for there’s an ease and authority in the syncretism of A South Asia Suite, which affirms Ghosh’s steady artistic development. Of course, a concert in his hometown is always something of an event. From a conversation between two middle-aged guys overheard at the bar: “I saw Arun the last time he played Band on the Wall. Have you seen Arun before?” “Yes, I’m his father.” 
Pictures by Eva Navarro 

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Complete Chris Ackroyd vs Vladimir Putin 1-61

Chris Ackroyd, who manages to lead a fulfilled life without a computer, asked if I could send a message to the world. Well, I sometimes have...