January 17, 2010

Niraj Chag in Concert – LSO St. Luke's, 24 October 2009

I wholeheartedly admit that this review is somewhat belated, but I hope I can be forgiven as I was dealing with my thesis corrections and settling into a new job. Niraj, a personal apology for taking so long with this.

That’s disclaimer number 1 – Niraj is a friend. But I’ve tried to review as fairly as possible!

I won’t provide too much preamble regarding Niraj Chag’s musical pedigree, as it’s probably easiest to head over to his website: www.nirajchag.com. What I will say is that this whether his scores for stage and screen or his stunning albums, anything the man touches turns to gold.

That’s disclaimer number 2 – I was already a fan before I went to the concert. But bear with me!

The venue of LSO St. Luke’s was a great choice – the marriage of old and new in the architecture and design was a very apt backdrop for a concert that brought together musical styles with imagination and flair.

The opening track was The Snake Charmer, an instrumental from a bonus CD included in a special edition of Niraj’s second album, The Lost Souls. It was a resounding start: classical violin by Kumar Ragunathan, Raf White and Mike Flynn on guitar and bass, respectively, with a crashing percussion section of Nilz Gulhane on tabla and Max Hallet on drums. I mention all these individually because this relatively small group, together with Niraj himself on keyboard, were the only instrumentalists of the night, yet they created a sound big enough to fill every corner of St. Luke’s. For that alone, they deserve recognition.

I’m sure Niraj won’t mind me mentioning that the first couple of vocal-based tracks which followed were a little shaky. It seemed as though the sound levels weren’t feeding back to the singers properly, something one of them confirmed to me later. It was a shame, as the arrangements of Mori Atariya and Baavaria could have been great.
Once those technical issues were solved, however, the vocal performances were, for me, one of the highlights of the whole evening.

Japjit Kaur will be familiar to anyone who has heard The Lost Souls, and her beautiful, ethereal voice contrasted and complemented Rekha Paunrana’s equally beautiful but more earthy sound. Their jugalbandi on several tracks was mesmerising – I’m sure George Harrison was smiling down at the sweet and charming Govinda Bolo. I do hope we get to hear Japjit and Rekha together on future tracks.

The sole male vocalist was the previously mentioned Kumar Ragunathan, who was quite simply outstanding. Powerful but controlled, his performance in the closing track, Allah Hoo, was particularly moving.

Nothing makes a live show like some imagination, and that was abundant in the collaboration displayed between Niraj and a Western (I use that term in a musical sense) choir called the Wing It Singers, lead by Sally Davies. Their joint track, Monsoon Rain, was outstanding, and I eagerly await the opportunity to hear it again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go to a concert I don’t expect the artist(s) to just give me a re-creation of their recorded work. I like to see something unusual, a twist on known songs or surprise arrangement. Niraj Chag’s concert provided all of these things. Tracks with which I have a personal connection still managed to put a lump in my throat, others had my toes tapping and I think I barely blinked during others.

The concert may have had a wobbly start, but it quickly found its legs and created an atmosphere that swept you away. I hope that Niraj and his whole ensemble are proud of what they achieved, because they definitely deserve to be. And from what I have heard, all the creases were ironed out in Birmingham on the 21st of November, where Niraj and Co. delivered nothing short of a marvel.

I wait with bated breath to see what this imaginative music-maker next has in store for his captive and diverse audience.

V xx


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