ADVANCE ROMANCE WITH JAZZ!
By Ravi V Chhabra
I had been planning to do this interview for over two years but Rishie was rather tied up fine-tuning his jazz group ‘Syncopation’ and consequentially travelling for various performances, though we spoke many times about it over phone and exchanged thoughts on facebook and on emails. I am pleased to bring the final outcome of his thoughts, efforts and direction on the stuff he has been doing tirelessly.
Fnbworld: When did the jazz bug first bite your ass. How old were you?
Rishie: Now that’s a mean bug we are talking about! I got initiated in the cosmic world of jazz pretty late. I remember I was around 25 when a close friend of mine played Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis for me at a late night chilled out session at his place back in Melbourne and I was thought it was super cool that sounded hot and holy at the same time. So right there began my jazz education, with little to know I would be totally smitten by this bug for the rest of my life.
Fnbworld: Guitar is more close to rock/latin music than mainstream traditional jazz forms....how come you took to jazz guitar?
Rishie: I started playing guitar at 18 and there were lots of rock n’ roll all around us. We grew up soaked in sheets of Floyd, Zeppelin, Who, Dead, Doors, Zappa etc. And guitar-based music was at its peak, so just as one would have it, I too wanted to be a rock star on stage grinding the guitar strings. I launched in playing music during my college days with my band ‘CLANDESTINE’ winning many festivals and awards across India which kind of gave me a real push to pursue music seriously as a profession and seek new frontiers.
Fnbworld: You think Australian music school helped you in understanding the direction you wanted?
Rishie: Advancing to the coastal shores of Australia to pursue my formal music education my guitar started churning out more jazz lines than rock solos along the way. I think what really got me about jazz was the intoxication of playing so many interesting notes and lines. No fixed solos sure thing sat better with me personally. Also not knowing what I am going to play next and being spontaneous and intuitive is way more exciting for me than knowing the whole drill. Less is more and more is more, is the approach what I believe in! Make every note count. The ever changing shapes, patterns, colours and tones inspire me to play jazz.
Fnbworld: Your guitar idols?
Rishie: Where do I even start. I truly love Wes Montgomery’s playing, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, John Mclaughlin, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Ted Greene, Bela Fleck (Banjo), Jimmy Bruno, Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Larry, Johnny Greenwood, Scofield and my list can really fill pages.
But apart from just following guitar players I am also heavily influenced by horn and piano players and artists alike. Coltrane, Cannonball, Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins, Ornete Coleman, Quincy, Miles, Bill Evans, Mcoy Tyner, Monk, Herbie, Keith Jarrett, Joe Zawinul, Gary Burton, Thom Yorke, Radiohead, Yo la Tengo, Beatles, Police etc. etc. Anything and everything goes as long as it’s a musical statement that speaks something to me personally and moves me on an emotional front.
Fnbworld: Your style of playing is most influenced by?
Rishie: It would be hard to stamp my soul in one spot as I play many different genres and styles of music. Also playing and recording for other artists early in my career led me to play completely variant styles of music but if you were to pen it out I think I like playing a concoction of cool, swingy, modal and funk jazz.
Fnbworld: Your first jazz performance as a group, please name the musicians/instruments/vocalists?
Rishie: My first jazz performance happened at our music college. It consisted of guitar, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass and drums with no vocals as I am not a huge fan of jazz singing. I do like the occasional scat but am not big onto jazz vocals. I prefer my jazz more instrumental based. Syncopations current line up is still holding to its trio stature with Sonic Shori on bass and Shantanu Sudarshan (Shanty} on drums and me on guitars.
Fnbworld: Did you formally learn guitar. Which guitar brands are your favourite?
Rishie: I did the music college from NMIT in Melbourne from 2001 to 2003. Being a guitar lover, I love all kinds of guitars but as I grew up listening to records with lots of Gibsons, I fell in love with the tones and hues that sing out of those woods. My main guitar is the Gibson ES-335 which I did formally endorse (Gibson) in India for several years but as that has come to end now. Interestingly, I am in the process of discovering other good guitars brands including local makers in Delhi.
Fnbworld: How is the jazz scene in India. Is the big bands jazz era over?
Rishie: Jazz in India has paced up a lot with more and more jazz venues springing up like The Piano man, Bar Cat, Depot, B flat, Blue frog and others who are helping in building the jazz scene. But we are small in number, also it’s a time thing as its easier today for a kid to grab a laptop and pair of headphones and churn out a track in a flash whereas learning to play an instrument like guitar takes years to develop and few are interested and have the patience in giving the time and respect the instrument deserves. Nearly half of the people drop out of playing an instrument because of the required focus and time factor, given our current world scene of instant gratifications with its mobiles and robotic gadgets that can play beats with a touch of a button. Though I must confess I do love dance music.
Fnbworld: What about big jazz/orchestral bands?
Rishie: Big bands really don’t exist here as it’s an expensive affair to keep up. It is financial - to pay the musicians and payouts at clubs and pubs are budgeted. Not their fault really as it comes down to the number games when compared with Bollywood or mainstream music. This is pretty much the case with jazz across the globe.
Fnbworld: If you were to play with one jazz band each from US and Europe, which would those be?
Rishie: From US I can easily pick out one and that I would be the Kind of Blue Quintet, they would be my favourite band to play ever as it had the finest jazz musicians of our times. From Europe I would be lent upon playing with Michel Petrucciani and other hand-picked musicians to cook up something for the day.
Fnbworld: Future plans and calendar?
Rishie: As far as the calendar goes, we just did shows from October last year till March 2018 including Jazz India Circuit along with famous international musicians and will be jamming around more in this side of continent. On the plans front Synco, the band in short is gearing up to record its next album around August this year. The work has already begun and this is a really exciting time for us as with the new lineup: Sonic Shori on bass and Sudarshan on drums - we have a killer vibe at hand. As a band leader it’s my responsibility to make everyone shine through.
Fnbworld: Your take on doing covers/adaptations versus original stuff?
Rishie: I believe in playing my own material. My reason is clear and simple on this, those songs are that artists’ identity and my identity is my own material. When an artist writes a tune he is sharing his space of mind with us so getting inspired by a good song is fantastic but it should ideally push you as an artist to write better tunes. It does happen sometimes that we identify ourselves deeply with a song and want to cover it so I say bring that in and share your take on it but your complete set can’t be repeating others ideas which really goes out to show that you as an artist have nothing much to say.
Fnbworld: How good are recording studios in India?
Rishie: Recording studios have come of age in India but when it really comes down to the meat behind the potatoes there are very few studios here in Delhi equipped with the right gear to record a full blown band live and if they are they are quite expensive. Being a producer and a recording artist I have had the privilege to record and produce in some of best studios around the world like The Abbey Road studio in London, The Diary Studios, Studio 301 in Sydney and many more. The difference between the studios abroad and us is the gear and the knowledge and goes behind the productions. It’s a seriously expensive affair to run a good studio. Good gear unfortunately costs serious tons of money. It is important to have a good recording chain starting from from a solid mic pre, transparent converters, good mics etc. now the thing is something like a good mic pre amp will cost you nothing less than 3 lakhs in Indian currency for a stereo pair if that, now to have 24 of those you can do the math....
Fnbworld: You attend and also play at various concerts – what’s your favourite format – indoors or open air. Also what speakers sound gets to your crotch best!?
Rishi: I enjoy playing both formats as indoor gigs lets you get really intimate with your audience and outdoors has its largeness attached to it. At the end of the day the sound and the sound engineer both have to be right to begin with. Sound brands don’t bother me so much as I am not picky about the P.A. but the stage gear is where we drop our clients with a personalised list of tech rider with selected guitar and bass amps, drum kit, mic selection etc. etc.I like the Vox AC 15 or the old gold standard Fender Twin both tube guitar amps which have tons of character to them. I am huge fan of guitar pedals and use them unsparingly in my rig, which primarily consist of lots of vintage overdrives, delays, modulation and weird sounding effect units: D.
Fnbworld: Reason to return from Australia?
Rishie: I permanently moved back from Melbourne in 2010. One of the main reasons of moving back to India was to be with my parents and spending quality time living with them. My entire family including my sisters and parents are quite well settled in Delhi so to uproot them to Australia would have been really rough.