Review: Bollywood Jazz

‘Supriya sings beautifully in Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and English’ – Bollywood Jazz. Photographs © Duncan Lomax Ravage Productions

Bollywood Jazz pretty much does what it says on the tin – it’s an unlikely mix of extremely talented musicians who have come together to play a series of gigs that take the songs of Bollywood movies and revise them with jazz instrumentation and style.

Bollywood Jazz

National Centre For Early Music

October 27, 2017

Their pedigree as individuals is nothing short of impressive – I’ve photographed pianist James Cave many times before, not behind the keyboard, but as a Songman in York Minster’s choir.

Beau Stocker on drums has played all over the world in various projects, as well as teaching, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Redman is a band all by himself – more of that later.

Providing vocals over the top of this eclectic band, is Supriya Nagarajan, who has brought the project together.

Something new and different

Supriya is artistic director of Bradford-based Arts company Manasamitra, and has been responsible for putting on some incredibly varied and different shows in some spectacular venues, including York Minster.

When Bollywood Jazz take to the stage it’s fair to say that a lot of people here don’t really know what to expect.

The NCEM is the perfect venue for them – intimate, beautiful, and perhaps most importantly it houses an audience that is open to trying something different.

Bollywood Jazz is a new project, with no back catalogue for people to explore, so everyone here is in for something new.

The band seem a little nervous when they take to the stage to polite applause, and they don’t address the audience, but take their seats in silence before starting the first song.

They work their way through a selection of numbers but it takes a couple of songs before they break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

Supriya describes what the songs are about (usually a love story) and how this presents her with a unique challenge as quite often she’s singing both the male and female parts from the original songs.

Astonishing to watch

But it’s the instrumentation and arrangements that is astonishing to watch.

There’s an element of free-forming and improvisation, and there’s the odd glance between band members when they seem unsure as to where the song’s going next, which is to be expected in such a newly-formed band, but they’re so experienced, that despite the sideways glances, the songs move effortlessly along.

This element of uncertainty keeps the band and everyone else on their toes, and I guess no two gigs will be the same.

Whilst Supriya sings beautifully in Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and English, Matt switches effortlessly between a plethora of different instruments ranging from six-string fretless bass, acoustic guitar, oud and banjo, to piano, cello and accordion.

His mastery of all these instruments is very much put to the fore, with technically brilliant solos and incredible musicianship and at times it does feel like the Matt show, but what a show.

Range of musical styles

Drummer Beau strokes the cymbals with bows, and uses his hands, brushes and shakers as much as his drumsticks.

It sometimes feels like he’s following the band rather than setting the lead, but when he gets to shine, as he does on the final few numbers it’s clear that he’s an exceptional drummer.

James covers a range of keyboard sounds from piano to Hammond organ, but also switches to guitar and cello with ease and skill. Then there’s that chorister voice – truly angelic, and it’s a shame that his vocals aren’t used more during the set.

Musically, this mash-up delivers a whole range of musical styles including elements of traditional jazz, swing, South American rhythms, and even a bit of reggae and funk.

There’s musical nods not only to traditional jazz, but to Beuna Vista Social Club, Sarah McLachlan and Seventies cop show themes as well as the Bollywood influences.

Fascinating combination

The sound is balanced to be part amplified and part acoustic, letting the natural sound of the NCEM add to the pieces, especially during quieter segments, and it’s in these quieter passages that the band really sits together as a tight unit, allowing Supriya’s voice to shine through.

The audience applauds politely for the first few songs but gets more involved as the performance gains momentum, and by the end of the evening there’s cheers and even some dancing in the aisle.

On paper, Bollywood Jazz seemed an odd fusion. In practice, it’s a fascinating combination that surprises at every turn.

It will be interesting to see where they take the project next, and it would be good to hear some original material, or to turn the project round and to interpret some jazz classics in a Bollywood style.

I’d be surprised if Matt can’t already play the sitar, and I’ll bet that Beau is a master of the tabla, so I’m looking forward to the next turn of this project.