I’m not very sure what I was up to musically at 23 (probably bang in the middle of my Tool/ NIN phase), but I certainly wasn’t ready to assume the responsibility of writing for and fronting my own jazz band at such a young age.
Aniket Roy Chowdhury (and hence the Arc trio) modestly points towards his one year of study at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music for leading him away from his rock and blues beginnings and towards jazz and world music. While having access to teachers like Rotem Sivan and Gabriel Geszti is invaluable, one year with them doesn’t fully explain the original and impressive musical journey that Aniket is on (and deserves all credit for).
Twenty three is young in jazz years for more than a few reasons. One, to develop a musical vocabulary as well as proficiency on the instrument of your choice takes a decade or more. Two, to take the leap and write original music is no small feat ( most people get stuck trying to play over standards aka Autumn Leaves for years and never make it past that ) and three, to learn taste and restraint, which sometimes takes a lifetime. Aniket (guitar), Donald (bass) and Joe (drums) are well on their way to being excellent instrumentalists, but what makes Fabrications special is the tastefulness on display throughout the EP. I can’t find any spots where they’ve chosen to play ten notes where one would suffice.
Aniket and Donald are regular members of the year old trio and have spent quite some time playing together. Their musical relationship is evident right from track one (Bonnie’s Trail) of the EP and continues to shine throughout. They intuitively make harmonic room for one another which really fills out chord voicings. Sonically too, the combination of the higher register playing on the guitar but with the tone rolled down allows it to blend almost seamlessly with the bass and comes across as one cohesive sound at most times. The only time they separate is when either instrument is soloing. It’s an invaluable combination and one that will only continue to get better as they make more music together.
This album (and a lot of the good music we’re listening to in 2021) was put together during last year’s pandemic. This unfortunately meant that their regular drummer Shubham Bhardwaj was stuck in his hometown and couldn’t contribute to the music (he did shoot the band’s video for Flashback). But Aniket was playing and recording with Gauley Bhai drummer Joe Panicker during this time (the two are band members for the Bangalore based jazz hip-hop act Bxckseat) and asked him if he’d play on the EP. It turned out to be an inspired choice as Panicker shows up with parts that drive the music forward while still being casually laid back. Using the words taste and restraint seems unavoidable to describe the drum work on the EP. Joe effortlessly handles everything from swing (Bonnie’s Trail), neo-soul (Fabrications), jungle (Flashback) and more, all with a grooviness that brings the music to life. Clearly the Yusuf Dayes influence is substantial.
Arshaq Malik deserves more than a mention too for mixing and mastering this album. Songs like Jin-Riki-Sha (my current favourite) sound like butter. The saturation on the drums is perfect and everything is present and heard distinctly without unduly sticking out. The only criticism I do have though is that the overall sound of the EP is a little too dark for my ears. Aniket tells me that the band wanted to maintain a warm sound for the music. I think there are betters ways to get there than to roll off all the high end. But this is just a questions of preference and there’s no right or wrong. What must be pointed out and appreciated though, is that these songs were recorded in a day and done live in one room to capture the unique energy of a live trio. This usually is a warning to expect some sloppiness in the playing, made up for by the interaction of the musicians. But in this particular case, the music is both tight as well as reactive (no small feat) and further points to the outstanding musicianship of all three members.
Fabrications is more than just a promising debut by the Arc. It’s an impressive piece of work irrespective of the age or experience of the band and is a pleasure to listen to on repeat. The EP bodes well for the future of Indian jazz, and as their vocabulary and chops inevitably continue to expand with time, the music will only get better. They’ve already got a handle on the most important part of music, good taste.