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Gig Review: Jazz @ Blue Frog – Remembering Jaco Pastorius

At about 9:30 p.m., just moments before the next live performance at Blue Frog, the club seemed almost deserted. The luxurious round booths, which are normally packed full by this time, were barely at half the usual occupancy, and there wasn’t much sign of life on the floor either. Then again, it was Diwali that day, and most people would probably feel too guilty to leave their families back at home on this auspicious day. Well, they certainly missed a great night of live music, as those smart enough to attend can gladly relate…

This particular event was a live tribute to Jaco Pastorius, an irrefutably inspirational American Jazz musician and bass guitarist. Headlining the tribute was Karl Peters, India’s very own slaphappy bass virtuoso, featuring his son Kurt Peters on drums. The father-son duo were accompanied by Sanjay Divecha on guitar and… believe it or not… Loy Mendonsa on keyboard! Yes, for the skeptical few, this happens to be the very same Loy from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

By merely considering the sheer amount of talent on the stage tonight, we couldn’t help but feel genuine genuflection for these musicians, as they paid their respects to their own gods.

Maybe a lot of people do not know who Jaco Pastorius was, and the influence he had on contemporary bassists. Maybe a lot of people did not know that October 26th, though it happens to be the day of Diwali this year, also happens to be Karl Peters’ birthday.

Not just this year, but every year. And finding that out made made the night even more auspicious. As this quartet started playing, we noticed that the previously threadbare audience started swelling in ranks, and more and more people were seen nodding their heads and tapping their feet along to the music.

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Words alone wouldn’t suffice to explain just how awe-inspiring this performance was. Unlike many other bands known for their animated stage presence, Karl Peters and Friends were relatively composed and completely into their own firmament. Nonetheless, the camaraderie within the performance was visible, as each musician gracefully stepped aside to share the limelight with one instrument at a time. 

This is when Loy put forth a seven minute keyboard solo; watching his polished pate and silver beard in the pinkish purple lights, as his fingers sweep across the keyboards with lightning speed, one can’t help but draw a comparison with Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess.

Sanjay, who kept switching between his retro plumy Ibanez hollow-body and his maroon Squier Strat, could be seen conversing with his guitars, as if he was making them sing out every single solo. Kurt, for that matter, made his own thunderous drumming seem effortless, as he showcased smooth transitions within time signatures.

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But the star of the show tonight was definitely Karl Peters. If you were to simply run into him on the street, you wouldn’t know you had bumped into one of Asia’s finest bassists. Clad completely in casuals, with a backwards baseball cap and black T-shirt atop black trousers, you wouldn’t believe his tenacity unless you saw him rock a Warwick 5-stringer with your own eyes.

Sanjay, sometime between the performances, shared an anecdote with the audience, explaining how he first met Karl in 1985, where Karl had unfortunately been robbed of his footwear on the train ride from Chennai to Mumbai. And yet Karl didn’t say a word and jammed with Sanjay’s band for three hours immediately upon his arrival.

And this is precisely the passion with which Karl continues to play today, with intricate bass solos in the higher register and artful usage of harmonics. 

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It was a quite amusing to see the effort that various audience members were trying to put into bobbing their heads along to a steady beat. This was mainly because of the nature of the kind of jazz music the band was playing – there wasn’t a single dull moment, as each musician kept bringing in more variety, improvising and playing along with each other, ensconced within their own musical elements, blissfully bereft of the confused head bobs and toe-taps within the audience. 

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With all eyes and ears on these musicians, no one knew how quickly time went by. They played many Jaco Pastorius classics, like “Black Market”, “Chamber of Funk” and “Barbary Coast” among others, and they even had one of their drummer buddies, Ranjit Barot, join them on stage.

Everyone seemed to be relishing every little musical morsel with great gusto, and it was only when Sanjay announced their last tune for the evening did the audience realize that it wasn’t quite satiated yet. Sadly, only as they started disbanding, amidst unanswered yells and yodels of encores, did the rest of us realize that it was midnight, and that we have to call it a night. 

And a night to remember it sure was. On behalf of the fortunate few who attended, I can confidently say that live jazz courtesy of Karl Peters and friends beats the living daylights out of any Diwali night festivity.  

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