Concert Review: Aditya Prakash Emsemble / SUNY Schenectady Jazz Faculty Combo @ Music Haven, 08/13/2023

With bracing weirdness that faded into the familiar through feeling, the Aditya Prakash Ensemble made music Sunday at Music Haven that was Indian; and it was jazz. But it was subtler and more adventurous than the term Indian jazz might suggest.

Mapping things out, right to left, the Ensemble was Julian Le, keyboard (synthesizer as piano); Owen Clapp, five-string electric bass; Shiva Ramamurthi, violin; Prakash, vocals; Jonah Levine,  trombone; Colin McDaniel, drums. All but McDaniel also sang; all played in remarkable ways.

Photo by Stan Johnson

Prakash himself started things, singing in a quavering staccato attack that Ravi Shankar (a mentor) introduced to the world in “Monterey Pop.” Prakash sang words only fans from India or Guyana could understand; for everyone else, words were sounds, syllables were notes. From the droning throb and repeating riffs Prakash sang, patterns formed in the band beside him into an intuitive dialog of vocals with violin, another of piano, and trombone before drums powered a final funky vamp.

The effect was of ideas subtly, almost shyly, suggested, then expanding through sharing and growing bold.

Prakash then explained those ideas, noting that the first (10-minute) song, “Ambiga,” consoled those beset by hard times with hope and faith. More lessons followed: how Karnatic and Hindustani traditions coexist and coil around each other in his music. 

In “Tarana,” he sang a percussive, stuttering beat, repeating phrases as the band built them up in abrupt, short cadences; voice, violin and trombone punching into the flow in a driving way that felt cyclic.

Prakash then demonstrated the melismatic South Indian gamaka quaver effect before forming a trio with violin and piano to introduce “Naina.” This grew rock-band energetic as bass and drums added heft, pulsating through duet passages, vocal and violin, then piano and violin before violinist Ramamurthi sang lead on the coda.

Photo by Stan Johnson

“Separation” started with a slow piano simmer; the trombone echoed with feeling and electronic effect before a full-band expression of exile. Prakash lifted the mood in a close duet with the violin before the bass took the wheel and drove.

Noting the next tune, “Payoji” explored the opposite sentiment of unity; Prakash sang slow, sparse and serene, again joined in feel and flow with the violin. As usual, things grew denser from there, repeating phrases to build the momentum of a happy mood that spread smiles across the stage.

“Naiharwa” cast a quieter but equally uplifting mood, soft and serene; in the yearning tale of a poet seeking transcendence.

After that brief ode of inward musing, “Celebration” grew into an expansive suite, with Le’s piano showing clear Chick Corea inspiration and each of its linked episodes offering solo time to shine. At times, they united in a graceful glide; other times, they scrambled in staccato runs. Noting this would be nearly their last song, Prakash led the band into a softer, subsiding passage, thanked everyone and sang to Music Haven impresario Mona Golub a two-days early “Happy Birthday.” (Full disclosure: we share that birthday, Tuesday, though I’m WAY older, the same day and year as Jimmy Webb, and a day after NRBQ’s Terry Adams. But I digress.)

Photo by Stan Johnson

In what felt like a departure-less encore, they closed in the happy mood of “The Hidden,” a stutter-funk beat pushing a spirited violin/trombone duet, then a climactic pairing of Prakash with an expansive violin coda.

As an educational experience, this 70-minute set stretched from its most exotic expression into an explanation of the sounds and ideas shaping the music, then its most compelling flow as ideas were edged aside by feeling and meaning.

The SUNY Schenectady Faculty Jazz Combo took an educational tack in its expert big-band bust-out opener. Saxophonist and Music School Dean Christopher Brellochs served as professor, introducing songs and promising/threatening a quiz of players’ names as he introduced everybody: David Gleason, piano; Brian Patneaude, tenor saxophone; Dylan Canterbury, trumpet and flugelhorn; Bobby Kendall, upright bass; Kevin Grudecki, electric guitar; and Bob Halleck, drums.

Mia Scirocco’s happy smile would have seemed incongruous singing Big Joe Williams’s sad “Everyday I Have the Blues,” except that she was so clearly delighted to be with this powerful band of colleagues; she’s also on the faculty.

Photo by Stan Johnson

Before her two-song showcase—a romantic “The Very Thought of You” preceded the blues—the Combo surveyed mostly upbeat standards, rich in solos and strong in section passages. Everybody got to solo and got applause accordingly in the spunky opener, “Cedar’s Blues,” while Patneaude starred in “Roy Allen” before a razor-sharp all-horns-in romp. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” set a mellow mood with a standout Gleason piano break.

Then, before a suave take on “Shakey Jake,” Brellochs re-intro’ed the band with the name quiz. We all got gold stars.

Patneaude plays Thursday in the re-named George Spencer Quartet, replacing Allen Halstead, who is out with a hand injury.

Set Lists, In order

SUNY Schenectady Jazz Faculty Combo

  • Cedar’s Blues (Cedar Walton)
  • Roy Allen (Roy Hargrove)
  • A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin)
  • The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble)
  • Every Day I Have the Blues (Big Joe Williams)
  • Shakey Jake (Joe McPhee but made famous by Art Blakey)

Aditya Prakash Ensemble (all written by the band)

  • Ambiga
  • Tarana
  • Naina
  • Separation
  • Payoji
  • Naiharwa
  • Celebration
  • The Hidden

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