Bangalore was once a proud home to a thriving jazz culture, thanks to the wonderful Anglo-Indian and Parsee communities that contributed immensely to the city’s artistic landscape.
Over the decades, as their numbers dwindled, a lot of that sub-culture gradually began vanishing from public spaces. Some shut for good and others faded out of popular memory. A few precious families remain and continue to keep the jazz sub-culture alive in fragments. ‘UNK – The Radha Thomas Ensemble – I Only Have Eyes for you’ has been created by a band of musicians who have experienced the fine flavours of the past and seem to make a genuine attempt to deliver a part of it to the coming generations of jazz enthusiasts. UNK, you realise, is a distortion for the word aankh, meaning the eye. The cover of the CD has a cornea in the middle of a peacock feather, just in case you miss it.
In the eight tracks on this CD, what comes across are a few things worth noticing. The first is the voice of Radha Thomas, whose voice modulation is excellent inspite of her trying desperately hard to sound dusky. A bit of monotony sets in after the first couple of tracks. If such a forced effort could be avoided, Radha could certainly be one of the finest jazz voices in Bangalore. For someone like Radha, who has had the good fortune of taking professional training in a genre as complicated as Dhrupad, this shouldn’t be much.
Her voice modulation, that can be heard in little phrases and delicate interludes, makes for pleasurable listening. The next is the brilliant idea of collaborating with various artistes to bring in this collection. Radha’s voice isn’t present in half the tracks on the CD and she generously makes space for others to improvise on their own music. The main five-minute track after which this album takes its name, I only have eyes for you by Harry warren and Al Dubin, could have been infused with a bit more life. A pleasant element is the piano performed in the third track Connections and fifth track Refuge by Aman Mahajan. He is certainly someone to look out for on the Indian music scene in the coming years.
Watermelon Man, the classic by Harbie Hancock, comes across as another pleasant surprise with wonderful improvisation done with the layering technique. A soothing chorus comes in as you are ready to tap your feet to this track. Matt Littlewood’s saxophone and Ramjee Chandran’s guitar could have been extended a bit more than what is there.
This CD makes for a sweet gift this festive season, from the heart of real Bangalore’s jazz scene.