Event Review: Musicians Join Forces to Help Nepal

Date: July 19, 2015
Venue: Le Poisson Rouge (NY)

Review by Dawoud Kringle (videos by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi, permission by Le Poissont Rouge)

In April 25th, 2015, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8M hit Lamjung Nepal. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. An avalanche on Mount Everest was triggered, killing at least 19 people, and another avalanche was triggered in the Langtang valley. The quake affected Bangladesh, India, and China, with approx. 8800 dead, 450,000 displaced, and damages estimated at over $5 billion (USD – 20% of Nepal’s GNP).

Not long after Jamie Baum, Manu Koch and others joined forces with the founder and artistic director of Jazzmandu, Navin Chettri, to organize a benefit concert. They reached out to bands who had performed at the festival as well as other allies in the jazz community.

On Sunday, July 19th, 2015, Le Poisson Rouge hosted the event.

Trio Urbano feat. Susan Pereira, Jamie Baum and Deanna Witkowski began the night’s music. A unison bass and scat vocals preludes a post-bop/Brazilian funk. This led to a lively excursion. The execution was very brisk and precise, and the vibe was happy, like two lovers enjoying a night on the town. They continued with a samba. This was a story about a man who was jealous of his woman’s live of samba dancing. It was very enjoyable, almost impossible to resist dancing!

John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet went on next. The vibraphonist Matt Moran (with John Hollenbeck joining him) began an Asian sounding ostinato, the bass offered a counterpoint line. The accordion and clarinet rose above this. Finally the drums came in, and the harmonies and melodies bifurcated into fractal patterns. The music went out beyond the groove. Then the vibes took over completely, with harmonies that began as dissonant, but coalesced into a haunting beauty. The clarinet and accordion responded to this with poetry of their own, and the original ostinato re-asserted itself in a transformed state. Their next piece started with sparse vine chords driven by a relentless “Amen Beat” on the drums. The accordion took the lead, shouting, ranting, and raving its message. Eventually, the vibes took the lead with its own aggressive message, with strange harmonies lurking in the shadows. The saxophone had its say, and the mad beat drove the music to an opening. The bass seized this opportunity to make its point. They continued with an eerie contemplative ballad. This was followed by a free, experimental piece that was soon brought together by a muscular groove.

KJ Denhert Band was up next. They began with a soft introspective ballad. KJ has a lovely and expressive voice. This is storyteller music. She uses the music to convey the mood of the story. There’s almost a Joni Mitchell like essence here. The band was funky, jazzy, and tight. KJ played some interesting things on guitar. They continued with a soft rock piece with a Spanish feel.

Goonj Beyond Borders featuring Manu Koch, Jamie Baum, and Dave Liebman was on next. A free form intro over a sustained F grew and expressed itself. A groove was soon established. The trumpet took the lead. Baum joined him. Koch took a solo that displayed his usual virtuosity and brilliant musical sense. The vibes took over with a beautiful statement. Baum offered her brilliant flute work. Then Liebman played a marvelous soprano sax solo. Most of the rest of the band backed down a moment out of respect, but found the urge to back him up too much to resist. They continued with an astonishingly beautiful ballad. Liebman’s offering on this was sublime and poetic. This evolved into a jazzy groove. The musicians soloed freely (Liebman suing a small wooden flute before returning to soprano). The song built to a climax.

Joel Harrison/Anupam Shobhakar Quartet: Multiplicity was next. A beautiful display of harmonies provided an intro to a lush groove. Liebman was presented in a different musical environment, and he offered his usual brilliance. There were beautiful guitar and sarod unison lines. They continued with a piece Shobhakar wrote. I was curious to hear how the sarod would be translated to this music. He handled the challenge brilliantly. The raga structures were deftly fitted into the jazz-fusion setting. Shobhakar took an amazing solo that left even his band mates staring in astonishment. Then the drummer took a solo that brilliantly applied elements of Indian tal to jazz drumming.

Beat Kaestli brought beautiful jazz vocal styling to the event. They were followed by Xiomara & Axel Laugart; the mother and son team leading their Cuban quartet. gave a performance of lush and beautiful Cuban jazz.

The night was concluded with Pawan Benjamin Group offering their blend of traditional Nepalese music and jazz. One of the highlights of their set was an amazing piece based on raga Bhairavi.

One of the things that truly stood out about this even was that in matters of social crisis, musicians and artists proved themselves just as essential in the healing and rebuilding process as rescue workers, doctors, and builders. This is certainly not to reduce the importance of these people; but to demonstrate the musical community’s equality with these great men and women. Once again, the beautiful side of human nature is not only represented, but manifested in the arts.