By Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri
Thursday Jazz Encounter at Phoenix, The Astor, was witness to a very special performance of authentic American roots music – bluegrass. Two groups – No Strings Attached from India and The Bluegrass Journeymen from America – played at the venue on 30th November, 2017. They played separate sets as well as combined jams.
No Strings Attached is the only bluegrass outfit based in India. They played a mixture of originals and covers of ageless bluegrass tunes. Their set was followed by The Bluegrass Journeymen who played mostly covers, except for one original composition by Billy Cardine, the legendary dobro player.
While No Strings Attached created musical waves through Diptanshu Roy’s mandolin, Koustav Dey’s guitar and Nabanita Sarkar’s enchanting vocals, The Bluegrass Journeymen had much more firepower. Founder Patrick Fitzsimons played the mandolin, Alex Koukov played the banjo, Billy Cardine played the dobro, Skyler Marsh played the upright bass, Jack Cloonan played the guitar and Bridger Dunnagan and Kirsten Matheisen fiddled around with violins. Almost all of them sang as well.
Beyond the rather charming thought that one heard music from the distant Appalachian Mountains in an uptown bar in the oriental world of Kolkata, the fact that the music touched the right chord with people is fascinating. The crowd was a mix – there were the usual regulars, the diligent music lovers as well as a lot of foreigners, some of whom had come to listen to music from their native land. The upbeat, uptempo and rhythmic music seeped into the soles of the audience’s feet and they tapped and swayed as the musicians belted out the numbers. Even though there was a space crunch on the stage, the performers had fun, and it was visible on their faces.
Nearing the end of the concert, all of the musicians came down from the stage, except the bass man. They formed a circle and played on the floor, while the crowd surrounded them, forming a bigger circle. Such a participatory gesture livened up the atmosphere even more. Clapping, tapping and singing along, the crowd and the musicians got into a perfect sync, and it was a joyful spectacle.
But the thing that stood out the most was when two Bengali songs – Ajit Pandey’s “Ekta Golpo Bolchi Shunun” and another song by Arunendu Das – was presented in a bluegrass flavour. This is probably the first instance of Bengali songs being done in this manner, and opens up the possibilities of experimentation and fusion to wonderful extents. The change in language did not even stand out; it was so subtle and natural.
The concert finally did end, but the crowd was not satiated. As the speakers started blaring out famous pop numbers, people still kept on dancing. This infectious vibe spread to nearly all, and when “Macarena” was put on, they got into formation and danced those slick and famous moves; leaving dancers and onlookers with glowing smiles and laughter.
Watch No Strings Attached perform “New River Train”: