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CD Review: Madhav Chari

Madhav Chari – Parisian Thoroughfares / Virgin Records (India) 2009

1. Parisian Thoroughfare (Powell)
2. Just In Time (Styne,Comden,Green)
3. You Don’t Know What Love Is (Raye, DePaul)
4. Elegy (Madhav Chari) (Dedicated To Elvin Jones)
5. Rejoice (Madhav Chari)
6. Elder Song (Madhav Chari) (Dedicated to A.K. Chari)
7. Prelude To A kiss (Ellington, Mills, Gordon)
8. Blue Light-C (Madhav Chari) (Dedicated to Kirk Lightsey)
9. ECube Blue St. Germain (Madhav Chari) (Dedicated to Eric Emélie-Edward)

All arrangements by Madhav Chari

Personnel: Madhav Chari – Piano, Fabien Marcoz – Bass, Mourad Benhamou – Drums

Time to take a look at the next CD I picked up while shopping in Kochi.

What we have this time is a trio album from Indian pianist Madhav Chari on which he plays an even mixture of jazz standards and original compositions. This might sound like a standard fare but it must be said that Jazz is not the most common music genre in present day India. In fact the musicians playing serious jazz here are few and far between. Indian jazz lovers will mostly be familiar with Frank Dubier (Chennai), Rex Rosario (Bangalore), Louis Banks (Bombay) and of course the legendary singer Pam Crain (Calcutta).  But let it be said that Madhav Chari is the first Indian jazz musician to truly transcend international barriers and has already made a mark for himself in both Paris and New York during the last few years.  To name a few musicians, he has collaborated with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Henry Threadgill.

On a quick glance the music on this album might be deemed fairly traditional and conservative but that would be an oversimplification. Looking at this in juxtaposition with the rest of the jazz scene in India, which still either looks back to the swing-era or is flying high in spheres of fusion jazz-rock, what we have here is neither conservative nor overtly modern. Forget about free jazz (which you could argue is not so modern anyhow), as it has not entered the subcontinent  in any major way anymore than gypsy swing in Belgium or France has moved on to incorporate blast beats from heavy metal. Am trying to be a smart ass here but seriously speaking this album is a milestone in Indian music.

This is virtuoso piano jazz mingling elements from Bepop, Cool, Hard Bop and an array of modern styles. And as such manages to carve itself a place somewhere between tradition and modernity within the context of the Indian jazz scene. For reference points to western listeners I would say that anyone into Ellis Marsalis, Kirk Lightsey, Kenny Barron and Bud Powell will surely enjoy this as a continuation of a great tradition with the added excitement of the Indian dimension attached to it.

What strikes me is how seamlessly old classics like Parisian Thoroughfare and Prelude To A Kiss blend in with Madhav Chari’s own compositions. This is proof of how well he has internalized the traditions and made them part of his musical thinking and technique.

The opener and namesake track is full of fire and virtuosity and gives the listener a good idea what this CD is about by taking a classic and turning into a vibrant modern(esque) rendition.  The second track Just In Time is taken at a lightning fast tempo and right away clears any doubt we are dealing with a world class artist. After the intense rush is over we move on to the more slow paced standard You Don’t Know What Love Is. I was not so sure I was looking forward to yet another version of  this 40’s movie song-become-all time standard. I mean can anyone add to it after Miles laid down his version? But against all odds Chari and his band manage to convince me not to skip the track and I realize I might even come back to this one.

Actually this is probably the place to confess that I am one of those (regressive) devotees of vinyl exactly for the reason that you don’t easily skip tracks when listening to an LP. And yes, I also love them as objects of great aesthetic beauty with their full fledged cover art and all. Here in India, where everything is subjected to much wear and tear, vinyl is unfortunately not very practical however. But I do intend to make a trip Calcutta to hunt for old LP’s in the future.  Some 70’s Bollywood funk is on my mind! Along with classical Hindustani stuff, but who knows what treasures lay in those old antique shops and bazaars. I will report on that adventure here on the blog when the time comes, so stay tuned.

Elegy, dedicated to the late Elvin Jones, is truly touching and one can feel the admiration and love Chari has for the man. After that, a complete change of mood with another Chari original Rejoice, which like the name tells us is a happy romp through some major chords and funky rhythms. Elder song, also by Chari himself, is a rather awkward piece and to be sure he does not remember the old man as solemnly as he does Mr. Jones. On the contrary, one gets the feeling Chari Sr. must have been quite a lively one. Starting off with a slightly goofy theme the band suddenly launches us into a relentless jazz walk that is entirely original and fun.

Next we have the heavy weight Duke Ellington classic Prelude To A Kiss, which gets a fine and dignified treatment. But in all honesty I must say I’ve heard more interesting renditions and maybe this could have done with just a bit more, well, risky approach. A little too standard type of standard if I may say so. Enjoyable nevertheless.

Luckily we have a real treat next with Blue Light-C, the track dedicated to Kirk Lightsey as one might well guess. A standard blues with a walking bass surely leading us onward to bold new vistas with Lightsey-esque  licks from Chari and a bass solo from Fabien Marcoz. Ending the album we have a song dedicated to the great Creole guitarist Eric Emélie-Edward. Personally I would have preferred a more upbeat ending to the album than this slightly anti-climatic track. I find myself listening to the first track of the CD  again to make up for it. And what a track it is!

In conclusion: this is may well be the finest jazz album emerging out of India to date (even though it was recorded in France) and definitely sets the standard high. Madhav Chari has found himself a solid backup from Paris based musicians Marcoz and Mourad who keep things afloat effortlessly and with impeccable taste. I will certainly follow his career with great interest.  Hopefully I can report on a live gig of his at some point. The gospel of Indian jazz is spreading as we speak.

Let’s end with a quote that aptly sums up Madhav Chari’s approach to music:

“I am not sure whether this unexpected historical lesson has been learnt by all: between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity”
– Octavio Paz, Nobel Lectures 1990

Madhav Chari - Photograph: Ranjan Kamath

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9 Responses to “CD Review: Madhav Chari”

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  2. Aleksi Lausti says:

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  3. Turismo Panama says:

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  4. Aleksi Lausti says:

    Thank you for the comment and link to the review sir, I read it with great interest.

  5. A.Krishnama Chari (Senior) says:

    You are most welcome to review Madhav when he performs at the Museum Theatre at Pantheon Road,Egmore,Chennai on 19th October when Alliance Francais will have a special programme to celebrate their 60 years in Chennai -I could send you his invite as an E-invite ,if we have your email ID.
    At Chennai,my mobile phone number is +919840800801.

  6. Amalavoyal Krishnama Chari says:

    It’s an excellent review which I send to my friends al over in India & overseas.

  7. Amalavoyal Krishnama Chari says:

    Madhav will again perform on May 30 th 2015 at Museum Theatre at 7 PM (Pantheon Road) Egmore, Chennai if you are present in Chennai I shall warmly welcome you. Kind regards.

  8. Hola! I’ve been reading your website for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give
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