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Gig Review: Eastern Flowers @ NCPA’s Experimental Theater, Dec 15

European polyphony + jazzy drives + Indian Carnatic percussion = awesomeness. Check it out!

Eastern Flowers is the name of a East / West Jazz fusion band put together by Jarry Singla, a pianist of Indo-German heritage. He, along with Christian Ramond (also of Indo-German ancestry) on contra-bass, and Ramesh Shotham on percussion (who also plays with BuJazzO, among other notable acts) brought to India his eclectic idea on fusing numerous foreign cultural and musical influences through the one medium that needs no translation – music.

Yet another example of world-class music brought to India from Germany, Eastern Flowers’ take on overcoming musical boundaries is yet another example of how musicians are now thinking outside the box when it comes to writing music. Gone is the purist’s elitist view that a Jazz trio must comprise of the usual – a piano, an upright bass, and a simple drum set.

What you see instead, is Jarry using a harmonium and a series of different percussive elements put within the strings and hammers of the piano. In addition, Ramesh Shotham has before him a varied repertoire of percussion instruments such as a ghatam, tambourines, snares and cymbals, high-hats, various kinds of drumsticks and brushes.

At first glance, one might think one has walked into a music store’s exhibition, considering the sheer number of instruments laid out on display. But only when one puts aside all such doubts and listens closely to the trio’s live performance does one realize that despite the unusual nature of this ensemble, the fluid harmony of their compositions and arrangements are nothing short of symphonic.

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Throughout the evening, they played many different kinds of pieces – some with deep reminiscence of Western Classical music, full of old world charm, whereas others were very unusual renditions of folk melodies – but unusual doesn’t mean bad, quite the contrary; for instance, Eastern Flowers added a much fresher flavor to a Polish / Ukrainian folk tune by the name of ‘Za Hory’.

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Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of their performance that night was the skillful grace with which each musician played their instruments, without the slightest inkling of anxiety or apprehension, especially in playing before an Indian audience (one which is generally conservative in terms of musical tastes) – but their music had the effect of letting the audience maintain pin drop silence throughout the duration of the concert.

Perhaps, like myself, numerous people were deeply engrossed in watching with awe the dexterity that Ramesh Shotham displayed, in switching between numerous instruments effortlessly, while bringing out his percussive expertise – as well as a blindingly fast vocal solo.

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Of the various pieces Eastern Flowers played that evening, I feel that their arrangements of the Indian tunes they played – especially their lively, upbeat rendition of a Tamil temple song – were by far their best pieces.

Call me biased, despite my own lack of familiarity with the intricacies of Carnatic music, but I could practically feel the resonance of their music within me.

Despite listening to an essentially ethnic tune with foreign instruments, everything within that arrangement just seemed to fit in beautifully, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together using pieces from different sets altogether. And the musical mosaic that this created was supremely elegant.

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The concert ended with a standing ovation – Eastern Flowers deserved nothing less. But as a special treat to one and all who missed their live performances in various venues in India, they have very generously shared sound clips of numerous compositions for all of Score’s loyal viewers.

Feel free to check them out:

Eastern Flowers – Okonana by highonscore

Eastern Flowers – Konakolatin by highonscore

Eastern Flowers – Blumenbein by highonscore


Special Thanks: Aamir Sayed and Sneha Sahani @ Avian Media

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