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Carnatic Music Meets Jazz

Ranjai Saigal

Manitha Neeyam, a charitable foundation that has been providing much needed relief to Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka organized a fundraising concert on Sunday, April 9, featuring Carnatic maestros Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi playing in concert with Marc Rossi and his group.  The event was held at the Roger Center, in Merrimack College, North Andover.  The organization in conjunction with the Boston Tamil Sangam, has raised over $150,000 to support the Tsunami victims.

Blending of east of west seems to be a popular trend in the music world and Jazz-Carnatic combinations seems particualrly popular. To make this combination work requires artists of very high caliber and Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Vijaylakshmi showed their mettle as they worked with the jazz artists to create a wonderful musical creation.

The concert was held in three parts. The first section was a traditional Carnatic music presentation. The Carnatic ensemble consisted of Violin virtuosos Sri. Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and  Smt. Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi with Neyveli Venkatesh on Mridangam and  Thirupanithura Radhakrishnan on Ghatam. They opened with the popular Pada Varnam in Neelambari (Senthil Mevum Deva Deva) , a composition of their father Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. Vijayalakshmi presented a wonderful Alapanai in Suddha Dhanyasi which was a prelude to Purandaradasa’s Krithi “Narayana” in Khanda Chapu. Thyagaraja’s Nirvadhisukha  in Ravichandrika followed. Krishnan presented a Shinmughapriya Alapanai as a prelude to  Papanasam Shivan’s “Sharavanabhava Ennum Thiru Mandiram”. In the typical Lalgudi fashion they were able to make the violin sing to bring out the subtle nuances of this song. Vijayalakshmi brought the first part of this concert to a close with a vocal rendition of Bharathiyar’s “Ethanai Kodi Inbam Vaithai”. Neyveli Venkatesh and Thirupanithura Radhakrishanan provided excellent percussion support and the thani was a dazzling display of rhythmic virtuosity.

Jazz performers , Marc Rossi (piano & keyboard) along with  Lance Van Lenten (Flute & Saxophone)  and Bill Urmson (Bass guitar) treated the audience to several of their special compositions. Marc Rossi has studied Carnatic music and as a tribute to his friends Geeta (Carnatic Musician and daughter of Prof Ramanathan) and Frank Bennet he presented an interesting number titled “Blues for Frank and Geetha”.

Finally the Carnatic ensemble  came together with the Jazz group to present a special treat. Local Veena teacher Smt. Durga Krishnan who was instrumental in making this concert happen was part of this ensemble and enhanced the presentation with her brilliant Veena accompaniment.

The first piece was set in three raagas Purya (Hamsanandhi), Kalyani & Keeravani.  Smt Durga Krishnan, played the Tanam alternating both ragas.. Marc Rossi then joined in followed by the other artists playing Purya, Kalyani & Keeravani. This was followed by solo improvisations by each of the artists.  Other pieces played were in Saraswati in 8 beats, a song in Sindhubhairavi composed by Marc Rossi in 5 beats. This was also the grand premiere of “Varamu” set to 9 beats composed by Sri GJR Krishnan especially for the occasion. Neyveli Venkatesh and Thirupanithura Radhakrishanan added excitement to the pieces with their fast paced percussion support.

The audience loved the fusion concert so much that they requested the artists to extend their presentation. The artists complied by playing an unrehearsed improvisational piece in Amrithavarshini. Every one of the artists was superb.  Durga Krishnan must be commended for making this unique concert happen and for her excellent veena playing. A great musical evening  in support of a great cause.


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