Sarathy Korwar @ O2 Institute

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Sarathy Korwar – O2 Institute Birmingham 29th June, 2016

Sarathy Korwar was a complete unknown only a few of months ago to even the most knowledgeable and up-to-date music fan, but that is about to change with his debut album from Ninja Tune, ‘Day to Day’. A brilliant full UK Vibe review of the album by Andy Hazell is available here, but it is always exciting to see a musician at the relative beginning of their music career within a live setting.

Sarathy was supporting four dates on Kamasi Washington’s summer 2016 UK tour; of which I’m sure you can read those reviews elsewhere (and he was amazing), but Birmingham’s O2 Institute in Digbeth was the venue which was obviously very busy, and featured a mix of local Jazz enthusiasts, musicians and the now ubiquitous hipsters. But the varied age range of the audience is always welcomed at Jazz gigs, and understandably, Kamasi has a loyal and diverse following and this was represented here, of which Sarathy benefitted.

But for some brief context, Sarathy is a US born, Indian raised and London based percussionist, drummer and composer, trained in classical tabla and percussion who has played with numerous groups, but is now very much a bandleader in his own right. The group members featured on the album consisted of a five-piece band, but here it was only a trio with Sarathy playing drums and percussion, Giuliano Modarelli on guitar and Al Macsween on keyboards. Unfortunately saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings from Sons of Kemet and bass player Domenico Angarano were not present, but this did not upset the balance of the performance – but more on that later.

Their set consisted of four tracks from ‘Day to Day’, including the spellbinding ‘Bhajan’, the very timely and polyrhythmic ‘Indefinite Leave To Remain’ and ‘Karam’ with its luscious classical guitar, swirling pianos and evolving melodies. ‘Bismillah’, the longest piece of the night, possessed a slightly Afrobeat quality and was a real crowd pleaser.

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And as mentioned, the group was without two members featured on the album recordings, but keyboard player Al Macsween was a contributing factor in maintaining the equilibrium by additionally (via keys) providing supplementary string instrument and other musical parts, and a welcome addition to the group on two songs was Rickey Washington, a member of Kamasi’s group, but more importantly his father. Rickey, (who looks incredibly young) provided some very fluid soprano saxophone and flute elements when he joined the group on stage, of which he looked very much at home.

The ‘other’ members of group were the brilliantly incorporated audio recordings and samples of the Sidi Troupe of Ratanpur, who are musicians from Western India that are part of the Siddi community, an ethnic group that migrated to India from Africa over a 1000 years ago and yet still retain African influences within their culture and music. These recordings are very much the inspiration and foundation for the songs and are used appropriately and organically, with each piece using these recordings to inform and augment the other musicians rather than feeling contrived. And thus, the set felt very original and was totally absorbing with the (sometimes very hard to please!) Birmingham audience totally captivated.

And being totally honest, I have never been a fan of ‘fusions’ within music – not the natural and genuine blending of sounds, ideas, themes and resources, but the contrived ‘lets mix these genres together’ scenarios that exist, and so I would never call Sarathy a ‘fusion’ artist. He absorbs tones, feelings and antiquity very naturally and the performance was still very much a jazz performance, with improvisation and spontaneity still a key component of the show.

Digressing a little regarding the contemporary Jazz environment, but I would argue that Kamasi Washington is the most important jazz musician since the millennium. Others may disagree, but Kamasi has managed to galvanise and stimulate the jazz consciousness into not relying on old Jazz paradigms. Continually overdone standards, lacklustre performances and poor composition has halted the progress of jazz for decades, but Sarathy Korwar and his contemporaries will obviously benefit from Kamasi’s universal popularity, and if even quite large labels like Ninja Tune can sign artists such as Sarathy to their roster, this does demonstrate how the Jazz world is now hopefully becoming a smaller place and accessible to all.

Probably the best live show I’ve been to in years!

Damian Wilkes

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