Jacob Collier in Mumbai: The artist's gig proves his most powerful instrument is his voice
Jacob Collier is a master in pitch control and voice modulation and even though he rushes excitedly to his circle of instruments — a grand piano, cello, bass, guitar, drum kit and synthesizers — during his set, the artist's voice remained the most fascinating component of his two-hour concert.
When Jacob Collier asked how many musicians there were among the 1,000-odd audience members present at the first of two shows in Mumbai, the NCPA’s Tata Theatre had a large show of hands. Let's say at least about half the crowd included celebrated and rookie musicians alike, and they were more than keen to have the Grammy award-winning multi-instrumentalist almost conduct them like a church choir.
Collier is a master in pitch control and voice modulation and even though he rushes excitedly to his circle of instruments — a grand piano, cello, bass, guitar, drum kit and synthesizers — during his set, the artist's voice remained the most fascinating component of his two-hour concert. Through rollercoaster rhythmic portions that ranged from jazz to bossa nova to pop and rock, Collier was demanding of his audience, asking them to sing along over and over.
It sort of proved that though Collier is no doubt versatile, he's not all about being a showoff. Songs like ‘With the Love In My Heart’, ‘Hideaway’, ‘All Night Long’ and his cover of the Carpenters' ‘Close To You’ proved that aspects like pitch, range and key are toys in Collier's playground. Everything is turned inside out, taken part and put back together with ease. The 25-year-old's energy never let up, coming back for two encores and darting across stage as if it was still the start of the show.
Collier’s music has won him Grammy awards, as well as the attention of veterans across the music industry – Quincy Jones (who’s signed him to his label Quincy Jones Productions), Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Hans Zimmer and tons more.
Grammy awards and praise from music’s greats aside, Collier is dreaming as big as it gets — like his 50-song, four-album project Djesse. Two volumes have been released so far, and the features range from guitar virtuoso Steve Vai to pop singers like JoJo. On the live front, he’s shared the stage with contemporary jazz stalwarts such as Pharrell Williams and Snarky Puppy. Collier was in India courtesy of music management company Mixtape.
He said about his tour, “I’ve played in Singapore and Japan and China and a few other places, but Mumbai is brand new.” He was joined by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist MARO, bassist Robin Mullarkey, and drummer Christian Euman. Collier promised that the performances would be as genre-hopping as it gets. “The show crosses so many different musical worlds, whether it’s rock and roll, folk, A Cappella, jazz or funky stuff. You have to have musicians who’ll be able to do all this stuff. I have such an incredible band of musicians I’m touring with right now who are a great example of this. There are three musicians who are all multi-instrumentalists,” he said.
Although Collier is not necessarily a fan of genres or labeling music, he seems to have accepted that he will be known for his jazz dexterity as well as pop approach. Covers of songs like The Carpenters’ 'Close To You' or The Beatles classic 'Here Comes the Sun' (featuring fellow British YouTube-fame singer-songwriter Dodie Clark) and jazz standards such as 'Moon River' span across Collier’s meteoric rise in the music world. Even though he’s been writing original music for projects like Djesse, his love for re-imagining existing pop, funk and jazz numbers remain constant. Collier said about this process, “I might take a melody of a song and think of some crazy different harmonies to make the context of that melody feel different. I don’t want to take a song and make it so different that people can’t even feel or hear the original song in there.”
It’s in fact the rearranging of existing songs that not only shot him to fame, but also became a way of self-teaching composition skills. Then a Stevie Wonder cover of 'Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing' in 2013 caught the attention of Quincy Jones, who’s “essentially a godfather” to Collier. He says about his relationship with Jones, in his typically geeky musician way, “If I want to call him and go, ‘Hey Quincy, if I have an F# Minor chord, do you think I should add a D# if I’m going to modulate into a B flat minor?’ or something like that, I could do that if I wanted to, but I can also just call him up and say, ‘How do you feel about this?’ I guess there’s an amount of trust there that means he doesn’t necessarily have to be in the creative space.”
Jones, Hancock, and the likes weren’t the only people who connected with Collier when he started blowing up on YouTube around 2011. There were emails from Steve Vai and others who were game for collaborations, although the multi-instrumentalist wanted to find his own people too. He called on Malian singer Oumou Sangare as well as British soul singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas for Djesse Vol 2. “For me, this whole album is sort of bridging all the new — Becca Stevens is a musician I’ve collaborated with a number of times over the last five years – but Oumou and JoJo and Lianne, they’re musicians I’ve known about for a while but never collaborated with. It’s a really amazing thing just to get in a room and see if you can find some magic, something in common.”
There are collaborators already in place for Djesse Vol 3 and Vol 4, although it’s obviously something Collier can’t disclose at the moment. But with this ambitious plan, the artist is clear about not thinking too far down the future and just taking it as it comes. “The whole world is unpredictable for everybody but I know that creating things feels good,” he said. “I want to continue doing that and sharing that space and energy from people all over the world.”
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