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Igor Butman's Russian jazz sextet wows Mumbai with innovative repertoire, impeccable artistry

There are some rare moments when an entire audience is gripped emotionally by a particular jazz performance. It doesn't happen very often. Such a moment was experienced by a full house of jazz aficionados when the duo of the gorgeous Fantine Prituola and star pianist Oleg Accurotov sang the duet, "Unforgettable". It was an emotionally charged, nostalgic moment to hear this song, immortalised by the legendary Nat King Cole and later overdubbed with the voice of his daughter, Natalie.

The venue was the Tata Theatre at the NCPA and the band performing was the Russian jazz sextet of Igor Butman, on Thursday, 22 March 2018.

Butman, a tenor saxophone player from the highest bracket in the jazz world, was presented by NCPA and Jazz Addicts. With him in the band were his longstanding associate Eduard Zizak on drums, the brilliant and versatile pianist/vocalist Oleg Accurotov, Sergei on upright acoustic bass, Yvgeny on acoustic guitar and the multi-lingual and hugely talented Fantine on vocals. It was a classic sextet, capable of delivering a concert of jazz gems from its rich and varied heritage. And deliver it did!

Igor Butman, a tenor saxophone player from the highest bracket in the jazz world, was presented by NCPA and Jazz Addicts. Image courtesy Facebook/@igorbutmanjazz

Igor Butman, a tenor saxophone player from the highest bracket in the jazz world, was presented by NCPA and Jazz Addicts. Image courtesy Facebook/@igorbutmanjazz

Igor Butman has visited and played in Mumbai on over a half dozen occasions. On each occasion his sound is new and fresh. Igor is never repetitive. He reaches deep into the jazz song book to play a different collection of songs and tunes on each outing. Not just that; Igor unearths new and young talent to showcase each time.

He once played in Mumbai with a big band, another time he brought a trombone and trumpet player, he has brought Fantine as the featured soloist of one of his previous bands — this time she performed on perhaps half of the evening's performance while his young guitarist Yvgeny was showcased prominently. Igor Butman is clearly a huge figure in the Russian jazz scene where he discovers and highlights young talent. He clearly has the eye for picking very promising youngsters. The young guitarist looked perhaps 21 years old, his bassist a couple of years older, Fantine is also in her 20s and Oleg Accurotov in his early 30s.

One is reminded of the great jazz institution of "The Jazz Messengers", a band led for decades by drummer Art Blakey, where he inducted young, promising talent and turned them into big jazz leaders. Blakey's alumni included Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Wynton and Brandford Marsalis among others. Each of these musicians ranks high in the jazz hierarchy.

It would seem that Igor Butman is on the way to creating big jazz stars in his country in a fashion similar to Art Blakey's.

For the concert itself, the choice of material for the evening was well chosen and balanced. It highlighted the talents of the instrumentalists as well as the two vocalists. They started with five numbers before Frantine was brought on stage, with numbers like "Mack the Knife", "Prophecy", "It could Happen to you" and "Just in Time" with Oleg's vocal skills on display on the last two. Fantine opened her performance with a tune made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, "A Tisket a Tasket" followed by "Cry me a River" and "The Lady is a Tramp". In the second half of the concert, the band played a tune written by Igor Butman, a theme from a popular Russian cartoon — one could visualise a frenetic chase through the music! Butman also played a dreamy ballad, "Nostalgia", where he displayed his amazing skill and finesse on the tenor saxophone. Fantine revved up the tempo with "Just in Time", "Sunny Side of the Street" and "Besame Mucho" before she and Oleg Accurotov delivered the piece de resistance of the evening in the aforementioned "Unforgettable". Igor remarked that his band had backed Natalie Cole in Moscow some years ago when she sang this song.

In between, Oleg sang a few lines from a couple of well known Bollywood songs, including Raj Kapoor's, "Joota Hai Japanee", which brought the already excited audience into raptures. The long, standing ovation was well deserved.

The charm, talent and versatility of Igor Butman and his band of musicians was fully appreciated by the Mumbai audience that night. It seemed that the 900-odd people in attendance went home satisfied with an evening well spent at a quality jazz concert.

He may have performed here several times, but there is no such thing as too much of Igor Butman for audiences in Mumbai. Let's bring him back!


Updated Date: Mar 24, 2018 13:28 PM

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