Jazzfest Berlin 2017 Gets Carnatic With Amirtha Kidambi

Amirtha Kidambi
Amirtha Kidambi & Elder Ones last night at Lido during Jazzfest Berlin.
Foto by Camille Blake

The music of singer and composer Amirtha Kidambi can best be compared to the mythical, experimental, cosmic oeuvre of Alice Coltrane. Not that Amirtha or any of her band members plays the harp, but watching her sitting behind her harmonium which played both the role of a bass and of an exotic backdrop and listening to her singing in the bhajan tradition, reminded me of some of Alice Coltrane’s work. The Carnatic music on display, music associated with South India, turned this second Jazzfest night at Kreuzberg’s Lido into a very Berlin-like hotspot.

In an interview that Amirtha gave in time for her 2016 release “Holy Science” with her group Elder Ones, she said that Coltrane was very influential, not only because of her music, but also because she practiced universalism and sang in the bhajan tradition, too. The soprano saxophone of Matt Nelson was the perfect accompaniment to the harmonium and Amirtha’s voice and only added to the overall exoticism of the set. It was only during brief moments when I thought that her studying Stockhausen was probably too much and her singing was lore like screaming. Bassist Nick Dunston and drummer Max Jaffe rounded out her group Elder Ones and made this second night of this year’s Berlin Jazzfest very special.

Later last night, saxophonist Steve Lehman showcased his new project Sélébéyone, his hip-hop meets jazz group starring MCs Hprizm and Gaston Bandimic who rapped in Wolof, the language of his origin Senegal. The hip hop was clearly upfront, the jazz was playing a minor role, even though master musicians like bassist Drew Gress were in the band but for me, the mixture didn’t work out even though I liked some of the pre-recorded backing samples and beats which were usually broken down by the spoken word artists.

The festival moves to its classic location tonight for the first concert of artist-in-residence Tyshawn Sorey who will perform with his trio and the NDR Bigband as second act, conducted by Geir Lysne.


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