Review in Exec Traveller

Band about to take the plunge

Band about to take the plunge

UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble launches its first studio album – “I Only Have Eyes For You”

October 1, 2012

UNK- The Radha Thomas Ensemble launched its first ever studio album – “ I Only Have Eyes For You”. The band went on an All India Album Launch Tour. There were shows in Delhi (Zorba and Out of the Box), Goa (The Sol) and Bangalore (BFlat). The gig scheduled in Pune (Shisha Café) was called off apparently on account of the police clamping down on licences for live music.

The Ensemble features Radha Thomas on vocals, Aman Mahajan on the piano, Matt Littlewood on saxophones, Ramjee Chandran on guitar, Keith Peters on bass and Suresh Bascara on drums. (On the album Mishko M’Ba played the bass, but could not make the tour with the band.)

“Eyes” does not lend itself easily to a convenient genre label but the music is definitively jazz in terms of the melodic and harmonic richness. The influences are subtly Indian but we would not go the distance of labelling it ‘fusion’.  The album moves between a range of moods with interesting solos and chord progressions. The album sleeve notes (reproduced in this article) explains the album well. This review will focus on the band’s live performance of the album on the launch tour. But we will say that a noticeable feature of the album is the interesting use of odd time-signatures that draw the listener into listening a track more than once to absorb its essence.

UNK performed the album live at BFlat in Bangalore in September and the musicians were able to showcase their talents with longer and more meaningful solos (always more creative in a live performance). The high points of the show were the virtuoso sax, guitar, bass, piano and vocal solos. A finale drum solo also had the audience in raptures. What came through overall was how amazingly tight (read, well-rehearsed) UNK is and handled all the breaks and syncopation flawlessly.

The musicians easily handled the complex scales and this was evident from the use of chromatics. The bass (Peters), sax (Littlewood) and guitar (Chandran) mastered single-line solos while the piano (Mahajan) solos were a delight in chord work. Radha Thomas’ vocal improvisation on some of the tunes showed that she was comfortable both with Drupad styles and scat singing equally.

Meniña Moça: The song began with a riff played in unison by sax, guitar and piano and delves into a driving latin comp. With a soulful latin jazz beat and melody this song written by Luiz Antonio (Radha Thomas wrote the lyrics) was refreshingly joyous. Aman Mahajan’s solo was noteworthy.

To listen to this song online go to: http://www.reverbnation.com/open_graph/song/14343304

Almost Like Being in Love: The famous Loewe-Lerner song started with a syncopated run, a riff built on the diminished scale and this riff is used as a mnemonic through the song. The guitar solo on the tune had Chandran quoting Sonny Rollins in the first few bars of the solo, which then moves into the song’s recast modes. The tune ended with the drum trades on the diminished riff.

To listen to this song online go to: http://www.reverbnation.com/open_graph/song/14343329

Leafmotif: The song composed by Aman Mahajan is reminiscent of beauty and romance with its lyrics, and bass lines. Complex chord progressions and rhythms lingered long after the song is over.

To listen to this song online go to: http://www.reverbnation.com/open_graph/song/13926388

Connections: Another Mahajan composition where Matt Littlewood’s saxophone solo was a class apart and beautifully complemented the powerful lyrics and vocals by Radha Thomas.

To listen to this song online go to:

http://www.reverbnation.com/open_graph/song/14300415

Bluesette: The Toots Thielmans signature tune was rearranged by Thomas and Mahajan in the hand-to-handle odd time signature of 5/4; and if that wasn’t enough, moved to a swing in 5/8. Beautiful vocals by Thomas and the strong percussive support of Suresh Bascara made this tune’s performance.

To listen to this song online go to:

http://www.reverbnation.com/open_graph/song/14343339

I Only Have Eyes for You: The album’s signature tune and possibly the band most difficult tune to perform live, the song is set in 7/8 time-signature. But UNK handled it without a singe flaw. ON the album the listener must notice how cleverly the 7 was expressed in groups of 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4, adding up to multiples of 7. Littlewood and Chandran were visibly concentrating on counting the 7 during the sawal-jawab ‘trades’ section where the song moved into the rhythmic groups. A touch of Indian classical to the melody, low notes and intense lyrics drives the listener into the essence of the song. It was an amazing performance—a song for musicians.

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