The afternoon of music opened with The KJC Power Trio, featuring brothers Binaya and Bhushan Man Amatya on bass and drums respectively, with promising virtuoso guitar work by Dev Lama. All My Friends took the stage next with Kiran Shahi on drums, Abhishek Bhadra on keyboard, and Ian Eustis on double bass, and the band started with an innovative arrangement of Resham Phiriri that delighted the crowd.
The KJC Quartet played third, and the group – Inap Raj Shreshta on saxophone, Mahesh Tandukar on guitar, Bijent Shah on bass, and Kismat Shrestha on the drums – presented a repertoire of some challenging standard jazz pieces.
Following the three competing bands, two visiting Jazzmandu bands also entertained the crowd. Swiss band bconnected presented four pieces of engaging complexity, with a very high degree of interaction between the six veteran musicians. Another six-man band, Neighbourhood of Sweden, showcased the impressive emotional range and power they command, with pieces ranging from upbeat and funky to melancholy ballads.
Though the event was organized as a band competition, Jazzmandu organizers were keen to stress that the primary rationale for the event was not to compete but to learn. According to Jazzmandu's artistic director Navin Chettri, the Jazz for the Next Generation contest was brought back after a 5 year absence in order to serve the festival's overarching goal of furthering music education and appreciation in Nepal. This includes promoting local musicians by providing them platforms such as band contests to gain exposure and experience. In keeping with these goals, all the winners of this year's contest will receive an hour long private lesson on their instrument with the visiting musician of their choice. "The private lesson that the winning band gets is unique, just one on one with professional international musicians," Chettri said. As the outstanding band, All My Friends will also perform at the Jazz Bazaar in Gokarna on October 22nd. Chettri believes this is another important opportunity for the young band as "they will have the experience of playing professional gigs."
On the evidence offered this afternoon, the jazz scene in Kathmandu shows tremendous promise. After the bands' impressive performances, Marcus Dengate, a teacher at KJC, said, "They are all great and work very hard. They were here every day early in the mornings to practice and rehearse." Judging by both the size and the enthusiasm of the audience, Surya Nepal Jazzmandu is also succeeding in its goal of increasing interest and appreciation for the local music scene. "It's the first time I've seen a live jazz band, and it's great!" says Pratik Karki, a professional photographer in the audience. "I personally really liked the KJC Quartet because of the saxophone. But my favourite musician was the bass player of the KJC Power trio."
Given the rapid progress in jazz education already evident among both musicians and the public, next year's competition promises to be even more competitive and entertaining.
Jazzmandu 2011 Reporter
All My Friends
All My Friends was selected as the outstanding band at the Jazz for the Next Generation band competition as part of Surya Nepal Jazzmandu 2011. The band contest kicked off five days of great music all over Kathmandu, with artists from as far afield as Cuba and Australia joining Nepali musicians for what is rightly described as the biggest jazz party in the Himalayas. All My Friends faced stiff competition from The KJC Power Trio and The KJC Quartet, but won over the judge panel of five visiting Jazzmandu musicians with their spectacular musicality. That they did it with an assured cool even as technical problems threatened to upset their rhythm says volumes about the young band's maturity and poise.
Soon after sitting down to talk with the guys, it struck me that All My Friends is a particularly suitable name for the group given their obvious rapport both on and off stage. "We laugh a lot," Ian admitted. That understanding comes through in their music too "We all speak the same musical vocabulary," Ian said. Listening to them play, their humour and candour draws you in. It's like indulging in an inside joke between friends, but they make you feel like you're in on it too. Take, for instance, the bands' rendition of Resham Phiriri. After a cheeky intro with that familiar melody slowed way down, the band suddenly launched into the jazz standard Cherokee. The switch in pace and mood was extreme, but they did it seamlessly, never missing a beat. I couldn't help but grin like a fool.
And the stories don't stop there. Ian was once a classical violinist, stuck at band camp and hating it, when he heard a jazz band and gladly decided to swap his violin for the double bass. Abhishek heard Cadenza playing fusion at Jazzmandu, and though first baffled by the music, he caught the jazz bug. And Kiran can't forget his joy when, while still in grade 6, he came home from school one day to find his father had bought him his first drum kit. With plans for a CD and a tour of India sometime in the near future, the stories promise to keep coming.
But before all of that, there are more immediate concerns facing the young musicians. "I wish there was a cash prize," Kiran says, prompting grins and sympathetic laughter from his bandmates."I'm broke right now." Jazzmandu organizers take note.