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      J.G. Laya

      Joël Almeida - Vikku Vinayakram - Subash Chandran

      (Karnatic music)

      Vikku Vinayakram
      Joël Almeida


      Joël Almeida - Vikku Vinayakram - Subash Chandran


      Vikku Vinayakram - (ghatam/claypot)


      Jean-Luc Barbier - Subash Chandran


      Subash Chandran me donne son adresse à Madras

      J. G. LAYA

      Live at Jazz Yatra 1986, India

      Subash Chandran (Konnakol/vocal percussion, mridangam, morsing)
      Yatra Jazz Festival - Dehli 1986

      In the modern generation of percussionists, perhaps no other individual has mastered the intricacies of Carnatic music and the laya endowments of the ghatam to such a great degree as Pandith T.H. Vinayakram. A child prodigy, he started his concert career at the tender age of thirteen. He demonstrated his amazing dexterity in accompanying the great stalwarts of yesteryear and recent times-Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S. Subbulakshmi, and Maharajapuram Santhanam.

      His creative streak comes alive when he plays mind boggling rhythms for various fusion groups, such as Shakti and J.G. Laya. He majestically finishes many a tani avartanam by throwing his ghatam in the air and catching it without missing a beat.

      Vinayakram has a number of titles and awards to his name, including: "Kalaimamini" given by the government of Tamil Nadu, India, and the First Sangeeth Natak Academy award for ghatam in 1988, a Grammy Award in 1991 for Best World Music Album for his participation in Mickey Hart's "Planet Drum" in which he played ghatam and morsingh. Vinayakram was a nominee for the 38th Annual Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album.

      "J. G. LAYA" consits of the internationally acclaimed "ghatam" (Indian earthen pot for storage of water) player Vikku Vinayakram, Subhas Chandra doing "vocal percussion" known in Carnatic music as "konnakol" and mridangam and Joel A. (for Almeida) on the piano. This trio was formed to give expression to Joel A's ideas and compositions which blend Indian music from the south with jazz.

      Vikku, as all jazz lovers would know, was a member of the extremely successful "Shakti" group which also featured John McLaughlin, L. Shankar and Zakir Hussain. Vikku has performed all over the world several times and amongst his better known performances was the one at the Royal Festival Hall in London during the Festival of India in Britain — his musicality and dazzling virtuosity brought the house down several times and he received rave notices in the British press. Vikku has, in differing combinations, regularly participated in the earlier Jazz Yatra festivals. Amongst Vikku's friends and admirerers are several jazz drummers including Billy Cobham.

      Scat singing in jazz is as old as the music itself. The first scat record was made when Louis Armstrong dropped the paper on which the lyrics were written and instead of stopping the recording turntable (in those days tapes were non-existant) he continued and sang the song without using any words - by scatting. The record turned out to be a hit. Since then scat singing has come a long way and today the undisputed leader in the field is the amazing Bobby McFerrin.

      In our Indian traditions we have known scat singing as "alap" (where a single word or syllable is used for vocal explorations of the rags), the "tarana" of north and "tillana" of south India, and the little known but well developed art of expressing percussive sounds vocally known in south India as "konnakol". Every Carnatic singer can do "konnakol" but few have the gift Subhas Chandra ie endowed with and few have developed the art to such a high level.

      Upto the arrival of Bobby McFerrin, our vocal techniques made Jazz scatting look rudimentary, but in all fairness to Bobby it must be added that Indian singers now need to watch out, or at least become aware of the scope and variety of vocal sounds and techniques iinnovated by McFerrin. Today Bobby McFerrin has specialised in absolutely solo, unaccompanied vocalising. In certain aspects Subhas Chandra might be declared to be Indias answer to the McFerrin phenominon.

      The blending of Indian music with jazz has frequently been experimented with but the results have not always been positive. These experiments are conducted more often from the jazz side abroad and rarely from fndia. Joel A. is a rare musical visionary from India whose experiments in such blending seem to have succeeded. He has acquired proficiency in various idioms that go into a successful blend; he has learnt western classical music, composition and the piano, Indian music in Madras (his home city) and he is self-taught in jazz (and latin and rock music). Perhaps the most endearing quality in Joel A. is his ability to "swing". London is his temporary home, he is a scientist.

      Joel A.'s compositions are unique, his arrangements leaving ample room to project the virtuosity of the greatness of the other two members of the trio. The music moves between Indian, jazz, latin—all with a good deal of funk.

      That Joel Almeida is doing something right can even be noticed from the fact that musicians of the caliber of Vikku and Subhas have joined hands to form "J.G.Laya" (a named derived from the music institute in Madras they all belong to)