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World-Jazz Group Natraj Thrills Regattabar Crowd At 25th Anniversary Show

Mallika Narayanan

World-jazz group Natraj marked its 25th anniversary with a brilliant performance at the Regattabar on July 25. The band featured special guest, Mridangam Vidwan T. K. Ramakrishnan, on mridangam and solkattu, along with Natraj regulars saxophonist Phil Scarff, violinist and violist Rohan Gregory, bassist Mike Rivard, tabla and multipercussion wizard Jerry Leake, and drummer Bertram Lehmann. Ramakrishnan has been a long-time collaborator with Natraj and the concert showcased intricate and playful South Indian rhythms in several pieces composed by Ramakrishnan and Scarff. The wide-ranging repertoire also included the West African traditional, “Na Yella Bo,” Scarff’s original piece based on Hindustani Rageshri, and the Purandaradasa favorite “Tamburi Meetidava,” set to a highly engaging West African groove.

Ramakrishnan’s percussion and rhythmic recitation performances were complex and exhilarating. Rivard masterfully showed the audience how the string bass can gracefully transition from American jazz to Indian ragas to West African-based vamps and back again. Gregory took listerners to a different plane with his inspired violin and viola playing. Leake’s versatility was on display as he comfortably moved from North to South Indian patterns on tabla and then to the West African gungon and rhythmic recitation. Lehmann’s magical drums propelled the band throughout. And melodic maestro Scarff’s saxophones were at once reminiscent of shehnai, bansuri, and Coltrane’s free spirit.

After 25 years of melding music from India and West Africa with contemporary jazz, Natraj has developed a remarkably cohesive aesthetic – a truly lived-in approach. Natraj’s deep respect for its musical influences along with virtuosic playing and great writing make for an exciting and beautifully fluid global sound.

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1.hfPuaHhZBJIRf October 9, 2012Jaen 
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