Amyt Datta’s ‘Electric Power Quartet’ Is A Startlingly Alluring Gift From The Guitar Hero of Kolkata
Amyt Datta is a visionary. Having dominated the rock and jazz music spaces since the early 80s with his virtuosic guitar-playing and exquisite compositional prowess, the eminent musician has been instrumental in establishing Kolkata’s alternative music culture as we know it today, going the extra mile to propel it to soaring standards. Using the guitar as an extension of his soul, Datta has dedicated his life to music, defining the intricacies of human emotions through his mind-bending pieces that transcend the boundaries between consonance and dissonance. He has served as an inspiration to many and has been a patient mentor to some of the finest musicians to emerge out of the city’s homegrown music scene.
Growing up in the ’70s, an era when the music scene of the country was divided between the contradictions of Bollywood and the slowly emerging “western” music scene, Amyt Datta’s introduction to the magical world of guitar music happened when his mentor Khokon Mukherjee taught him the nitty-gritties of the craft. He practiced for hours on end on his very first acoustic guitar that had a high action, getting better at his instrument with each passing day. According to Datta himself, his mother had been his greatest supporter, encouraging him to pursue music and even taking an extra step to keep anything and anyone from distracting him during his practice sessions. He later took lessons from jazz guitarist Carlton Kitto who introduced him to the complex and meditative world of jazz improvisations.
One of the earliest bands Amyt Datta was involved with was New Blues Connexion, a quartet where he played with his brother Monojit “Kochu” Datta, a Latin percussion maestro. The band enjoyed its time gigging around in Anglo-Indian weddings, pubs, and small-time club shows. Eventually, the duo joined forces with the late bassist Gyan Singh and his wife, late vocalist Jayashree Singh in their pop/rock cover outfit Airwave sometime during the late 80s. The band covered songs by Pointer Sisters, En Vogue, Nona Hendryx, Sade, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, Deborah Berg, and many more, incorporating pop flavours into the arrangements.
In the 80s, Datta’s stint with the rock band Shiva encouraged him to dig deeper into the intricacies of music and come up with a sound unique only to him. His passion for original music effloresced with the fusion band D for Brothers where he teamed up with Monojit Datta once again. He later continued playing with Pinknoise and its late-night twin Skinny Alley. Along the way, he kept grinding away at his craft, and the accumulation of diverse musical influences spanning five decades resulted in the birth of his sui generis sound, something that would go on to shape the contemporary alternative music culture of the city.
“I try to learn as much as possible as long as it catches my fancy and I know that it will work within the parameters of my musical canvas,” says Datta. “It’s much more profound an art form than most people think… so yes, I have evolved and still evolving and morphing into shapes and shades of musical colour and language,” he adds.
Datta’s dynamic approach to guitar earned him the attention of numerous musicians in the city across multiple fields of music who invited him for studio sessions. He started playing with Anjan Dutta, a popular name in the homegrown Bengali music and film industry. He also tied up with vocalist Arka Mukherjee to play in the fusion folk-rock band Ziba, along with Rotoban Das on drums, Debopratim Bakshi on congas, Aakash Ganguly on bass. Amyt Datta also teamed up with Jayashree Singh and Gyan Singh’s son, prodigy drummer Jivraj Singh to form an experimental-noise jazz duo, Fractal. Later on, he came together with Singh again to release Ambience de Danse – an idiosyncratic medley of sounds blending the complexities of Western and Oriental.
Eventually, he released two more full-length albums, Pietra Dura and Amino Acid both of which serve as blueprints of Datta’s sheer musical genius. Last year, on December 2021 he came out with his long-awaited album Red Plant which went on to boggle the minds of listeners and earn not only positive feedback but also all-around appraisal from music critics. Currently, he is working on his upcoming full-length release for which he has only revealed the title, Amygdala.
The Electric Power Quartet’s Undeniable Mojo Is Certainly One To Experience First-Hand
In the meantime, Datta has continued gigging locally, nationally, and internationally. Recently, he came out with a brand-new project, aptly monikered the Electric Power Quartet, bringing on board reputed percussionist Sambit Chatterjee, eminent keyboardist Samrat Mukherjee and his long-term musical partner-in-crime bassist Akash Ganguly. And what a thrill it has been for the band in this journey, performing music that lives up to its name – electrifying and alluring.
The Electric Power Quartet performed their first-ever gig at Princeton Club in Kolkata taking the music scene of the city by storm. Needless to say, the audience roster was hoarded by music enthusiasts, Datta’s students, and other musicians who spent an evening basking in the sheer ebullience brought about by their performance, taking home some fond memories along the way.
According to Amyt Datta, although the Electric Power Quartet has been performing the same set of songs that he plays with his other set-ups, they have been laced with voguish elan – a sound more relatable to the modern audience.
“The Electric Power Quartet is different in its energy. Having said that it also possesses familiar features that an audience associates with like hard grooves and physical virtuosity,” he says. “It’s the same compositions that I play with my other setups like the acoustic quartet or the electric trio. I am proud that my music has the potential to be presented and designed in several styles and yet retains the beauty of new challenges and colors and subtlety,” he adds.
“It [the band] is all about a ball of energy, a fight between matter and anti-matter, constant, changing, evolving, re-shaping us. It’s all about its subtle yet so loud, it’s restless yet so patient, it’s chaotic yet so systematic. I love it. The unpredictability is amazingly satisfying,” comments Sambit Chatterjee, who claims that they had been practicing for 2 years to play their first gig. The reason he says was that they needed to be in perfect sync “to find a balance between the members for what will be the sound of the band.”
Citing influences from Indian classical, jazz, prog-metal and rock, The Electric power Quartet soars in its chaotic brilliance – a melange of notes falling right into place sewn tightly together with crackling tones and gritty dissonance. Sometimes it is the guitar complementing the drums and bass while other times it’s the vice-versa. The synth embellishes the harsh edges to finetune them.
So how did it all come together in the first place? “In my head, I always heard the different treatments that these compositions can be given… with Sambit, Aakash and Samrat it has become possible to offer these powerfully fine aesthetics because of their high musical caliber,” comments Datta.
“This band has been one of the most musically enriching and satisfying experiences of my life, yet. Amyt Datta is beyond a musician, I am not exaggerating when I say that he has gone beyond his time, musically and the stuff that he has done with Pinknoise & Jivraj Singh is groundbreaking. He is a musical cryptic storyteller and you’ve got to really listen carefully with a pair of extremely educated ears to really decipher what he’s trying to emote in every song,” says Sambit.
According to the drummer, Datta has been a constant guide in every step of the writing process, explaining his ideas with a poise that would make perfect sense every time they hit a roadblock. “It would open up your senses to playing that and then you just have to sync in better and better, that’s the process of writing this music with him,” comments Sambit.
Working together with bassist Aakash Ganguly and keyboardist Samrat Mukherjee has also been an enthralling experience for the drummer. “With Aakash, I have always wanted to play with him, I feel he is one of the leading bass players of the country but a super underdog and surely is someone who’s played with Amyt enough to feel his every move,” he says.
“As for Samrat, I have known him since school. He has always been a super talented musician but has mostly been associated with cover music but Amyt knows what he can bring out in musicians who don’t know it themselves, and Samrat has brought out a side of his in this band that that none of us have heard before, we are all super proud to have him in the gang,” he adds.
After another successful show at The Brass Room in ITC Royal Bengal, the band is currently prioritizing writing new material, and a debut album is supposedly on the way. They plan to tour the country after its release. “From our end, we are currently finishing the last leg of recordings for our debut album, expected middle of 2023. If that does come out in time and we get to play around the world at amazing festivals and gigs we will be extremely happy, but even if it doesn’t, we will keep writing and jamming because it makes us satisfied, we four are reason enough to get together in that one room in my old house to play the crap out,” he explains.
And Amyt Datta is rooting for the band to leave a buzz. “The sound of EPQ is not that ‘out’ yet so that it is completely outside the familiar territory… but at the same time it does have unconventional ways in its deeper layers… but like I mentioned in an earlier answer that it also carries some of the more upfront and bolder qualities that catch the ear and the heart in a more direct way,” comments Datta. “An open-minded listener will receive the signals easier and enjoy a higher degree of understanding and appreciation because the energy of music after all flows reciprocally,” he adds.