About Sanjoy Narayan

Sanjoy Narayan has a day job as Hindustan Times’ Editor-in-Chief but he’s incurably addicted to discovering new music via the Internet. His tastes run towards independent  and lesser known musicians and he likes to check out almost every genre that is served up by today’s mushrooming breed of rock and pop ensembles.

He’s been collecting music ever since his teens—beginning with vinyls and then cassette tapes. Now, he samples, tastes and downloads music off the Internet, picking up podcasts, rare bands and unsigned musicians with big potential. With the bits and bytes burgeoniong, Sanjoy is slowly running out of place to store his growing hoard of disk drives but, thankfully, not his obsessive enthusiasm to hear new music.

Before last fortnight, I had not heard of Amancio D’Silva, the Bombay-born jazz guitarist. Neither had I heard anything recorded by him. Then, my dear friend Hemant, an inveterate discoverer of great music and a connoisseur of hidden gems, gifted me Hum Dono, an album by a jazz quartet led by D’Silva and the Jamiacan-born saxophonist, Joe Harriott.

All that jazz: Hum Dono has an improvisational feel, but it's a blend of two sounds and a perfect one at that.

All that jazz: Hum Dono has an improvisational feel, but it's a blend of two sounds and a perfect one at that.

The album, originally released in 1969 and re-released more recently, has six tunes, of which five are by the Indian guitarist. And what a guitarist he was. Harriott and D’Silva are no more (Harriott, the older of the two, died at 44 in 1973; and D’Silva at 60 in 1996) but Hum Dono is a stunning example of how brilliant the two were.

D’Silva got turned on to jazz in the 1940s by listening to American jazz guitarists on the radio in India and later played in jazz bands in Bombay (now Mumbai). He then moved to London where he did menial work while playing in small jazz clubs. Soon he got a break and a recording contract and collaborated with other musicians. Hum Dono, the gift from Hemant, is one such.

D’Silva is a jazz guitarist who is clearly influenced by contemporary western jazz of the era but has a singular style that has unmistakably Indian roots. The album opens with Stephano’s Dance, written for the guitarist’s son. A deep bass line is followed by Harriott’s sax solo; a trumpet line that is more Indian classical; a female vocalist’s scat; and, of course, D’Silva’s unique jazz riffs enriched with Indian classical tones.

Fly me to the moon: Amancio D’Silva got turned on to jazz in the 1940s by listening to the radio, and played in jazz bands in Bombay. He then moved to London and played in small clubs.

Fly me to the moon: Amancio D’Silva got turned on to jazz in the 1940s by listening to the radio, and played in jazz bands in Bombay. He then moved to London and played in small clubs.

Hum Dono hooks you from the very beginning. The second track, Swing Low, Sweet Harriott, the saxophonist’s short composition, has a free-form feel to it with Harriott’s improvisational solo providing a bridge before the third track, D’Silva’s Ballad For Goa kicks off – a brooding beginning of guitar, bass and chants that soon turns into a sax-led upbeat bebop exploration.

Hum Dono, the title track, is a perfect example of how the two co-leaders of the band were in complete sync: it’s an example of the sounds of the East fusing with those of the West without either of them overpowering the other. That’s what fusion should be all about.

Many decades ago, as a child I’d heard the violinist Yehudi Menuhin collaborate with the sitarist Ravi Shankar on a vinyl my late father used to have. It was called West Meets East and the A Side had the duo’s interpretation of Indian ragas. The B Side a sonata.

That was a classical music by a duo of outstanding musicians but each side was distinct: one was clearly eastern and the other western. Hum Dono is a jazz album with a more improvisational feel, but it is a blend of two sounds and, delightfully, a perfect one at that.

All six tracks on Hum Dono are superb and a great discovery. Hemant says he’s looking for other D’Silva albums. He usually goes to great lengths to do that sort of thing. I took the easy way out and went to YouTube. And found a few tracks – A Street in Bombay from the album Konkan Dance; Ganges from the album Integration; and a track called Eastern Dawn. Fabulous, all of them.

Also watch: Amancio D’Silva “Joyce country” from album “Integration” – 1969

AUDIO THERAPY:
More help from friends came last fortnight. One was in the form of hardware. My young colleague and diehard audiophile Rezaul pointed me in the direction of a Scottish maker of hi-fidelity earphones, Reid Heath Acoustics (or RHA).

Happiness for your ears: The RHA T20 earphones are truly the real thing. Listening to music is not going to be the same again.

Happiness for your ears: The RHA T20 earphones are the real thing. Listening to music won't be the same again.

I don’t know whether he knows about my obsession with all things earphone (it’s not much of a secret) but he made me listen to a demo pair of the company’s new RHA T20, which are a pair of in-ear, dual coil tech, handmade, stainless steel babies. Rez had been lent a pair by them for a review (read his review online).

It took me a few seconds of listening to realise that these were truly the REAL thing. They don’t come cheap the RHA T20s as I’ve realised after springing for them but they’re sitting snugly in my ears as I write this and listen to Hum Dono.

Amancio and Joe may well be playing in my room live for me! Listening to music is not going to be the same again. As for the damage to my bank balance, audio bliss can sometimes be a salve for a bruised credit card.

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On five of the 16 songs that form the new album, Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone, it is Lauryn Hill who does vocal duty. The tribute album is a star-studded affair with, besides Hill (who’s also a co-producer), Mary J Blige, Usher, Gregory Porter, Alice Smith and Simone’s daughter, Lisa.

It was released a few months ago around the time a new documentary on Simone was released on Netflix (see Brunch dated July 5, 2015). But it’s Hill who steals the show on it. That’s kind of befitting.

Lauryn Hill could – for a younger generation – be as iconic as Nina Simone was. After more than a decade, she has made a comeback on a Simone tribute album. Photos: Getty Images

Lauryn Hill could – for a younger generation – be as iconic as Nina Simone was. After more than a decade, she has made a comeback on a Simone tribute album. Photos: Getty Images

An alum of the 1990s hip-hop band, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill could quite possibly be, for a younger, post-hip-hop generation, as iconic as Nina Simone was during her career. The tribute album is also a sort of comeback for Hill who had all but vanished for years.

After the members of The Fugees (Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel and Hill) disbanded, she released in 1998 a whopper of a solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The 16 songs on the album, mostly written when she was pregnant and expecting her first child with Rohan Marley (son of Bob Marley) straddle genres – hip-hop, soul, R&B and reggae – and their wide-ranging lyrics talk about politics, love, the flipside of fame, relationships and her own life.

Watch: Ms. Lauryn Hill – FULL LIVE @ Rototom Sunsplash 2014 (Spain)

Between the songs there are several interspersions of what appear to be a classroom scene between a teacher and his pupils. In the first track, Intro, the teacher does a roll call; in another, he tries to explore the concept of love. The classroom interludes blend well with Hill’s ballads, the hip-hop verses; and R&B songs that follow.

The staggering success of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (it has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide since it was launched) instantly catapulted Hill to fame and a blitzkrieg of media exposure followed. Incidentally, she got five Grammys for the album in 1999. The Miseducation truly deserved those: for Hill’s songs; and her versatility.

The Fugees had a distinct sound. Wyclef Jean (who is Haitian-born – he even tried to run for office in Haiti once) brought a Caribbean influence to their music, which has a pronounced reggae inflection.

Lady soul: Her covers of five of Simone’s songs makes Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone as much a new Lauryn Hill album as one that’s a tribute to the greatest Queen of Soul

Lady soul: Her covers of five of Simone’s songs makes Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone as much a new Lauryn Hill album as one that’s a tribute to the greatest Queen of Soul.

But The Fugees also got a bad rap for their propensity to ‘cover’ other people’s songs. They cut only two studio full-lengths, of which 1997’s The Score stands out. And ‘cover’ song or not, Hill’s version of Killing Me Softly With His Song on The Score is quite wonderful. But that’s where The Miseducation scored: it showcased Hill’s ability to write original songs – ballads, rap verses or sad love songs. It’s a pity she nearly disappeared after the album.

Watch: Action Bronson – “Easy Rider” (Official Video)

Till now when, on the new, Nina Simone tribute album, she reappears. Her covers of Simone’s Feeling Good, I’ve Got Life, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, Wild is the Wind, and Ne Me Quitte Pas (rendered almost like a true French speaker) makes that album as much a new Lauryn Hill album as one that’s a tribute to the greatest Queen of Soul. Now one hopes that there is going to be more in the offing from Lauryn Hill.

My introduction to the rapper Action Bronson came from an interesting video set in a restaurant-cum-marketplace that I love, New York’s Eataly. In the video, Mario Batali, the Italian-American chef and the main brain behind Eataly, is seen giving the rapper a tour of his restaurant.

All you can eat: I discovered that Action Bronson is a rapper with a difference.  His rap verses frequently are about food!

All you can eat: I discovered that Action Bronson is a rapper with a difference. His rap verses frequently are about food!

The two (both are portly, bearded guys) tuck into prosciutto and different cheeses; head over to the pizza oven; and then move to rooftop Birreria and gorge on some cured guanciale sandwiches. I’ve done the same as them in the exact same place (sans Batali, alas!) so the video did engage me.

But then I discovered that Action Bronson is a rapper with a difference. He actually has a video series called F#@k, That’s Delicious that actually is a culinary tour across the US as well as some other countries. And I also learnt that his rap verses frequently are about food! Here, sample a few culled from different tracks:

Catch a rooster, cut his f#@king nuts off / Serve ’em for a hundred dollars, sesame and plum sauce.
Liquorice liquore, one cube, a touch of water / Watch it mix, turn white like the Duchess’ daughter.
My dad was right when he said I was a strange, f#@k / Now every meal is calamari and boudin blanc.

What? Not my fault, I told you he was a rapper! Anyway, Bronson’s latest album, Mr. Wonderful, his second studio work, is totally worth checking out.

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July 17: Tipped off by a friend on Twitter that Wilco, the rock band fronted by Jeff Tweedy, had made a surprise release of their new album, Star Wars, as a free download on their website, I head there to do the needful – a quick download. For a couple of days after that, Star Wars is my playlist.

Something starry: Wilco's new album Star Wars shows they are much more than an alt-country rock band.

Something starry: Wilco's new album Star Wars shows they are much more than an alt-country rock band.

The 11 songs cut across genres – and belie the lazy label of an alt-country rock band that is sometimes accorded to the band. They’re far more than that. Good guitar rock is how I’d classify Star Wars and the songs on that album become an earworm for days.

Best tracks: The upbeat Random Name Generator; and the mellower, You Satellite.

July 20: I realise that I have 210 Grateful Dead albums (some incomplete; some complete; most bootlegs) in the cloud, on my iPad and the iPods. A hopeless obsession? Probably.

But for Monday morning, I choose an album full of rareties and old songs: it’s called Birth of the Dead. And it has the band in its early days performing songs such as Mindbender (Confusion’s Prince), Don’t Ease Me In (an instrumental version followed by the one with vocals). Pigpen is in full form through the two-disc collection.

Best tracks: A 1968 version of The Eleventh Jam of 15 minutes; and a Warner Brothers radio commercial exhorting people to buy Live/Dead (I kid you not!).

July 23: Midweek. I find Apple Music’s Beats 1 Live Radio difficult to outdo for a playlist. Didn’t check who was DJ-ing and from where (LA, NYC or London? Who knows?), but I got introduced to new artists such as Seinabo Sey, the Swedish (actually, she’s part Gambian) R&B singer. Her single Pretend, released this year, is guaranteed to aurally seduce you to check out more of her work.

Also watch: Seinabo Sey – Younger

The other highlight of the Beats1 listening session was another young R&B artist, the American, Miguel. His single Coffee will hook you.

Soulful swede: Seinabo Sey may be new on the block but this R&B singer seduces with her blues-y music.

Soulful swede: Seinabo Sey may be new on the block but this R&B singer seduces with her blues-y music.

Best tracks: Sey’s Hard Time; and Miguel’s cover of Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets.

July 24: I decide to take things back under my own control! And make a playlist. I take the easy way out: I take the three Little Feat albums that I have (Waiting for Columbus; Hoy-Hoy!; and their first studio album, Little Feat) and listen to them nonstop.

Also watch: Little Feat – Rainbow Theatre London 1977

The LA band’s frontman, the late Lowell George’s vocals, the band’s eclectic influences and excellent musicians, including co-founder Bill Payne on the keyboards, make for a compelling listen. Sadly, Little Feat in that form was short-lived. The band was formed in 1969. George died in 1979 (a year after he produced the Grateful Dead’s Shakedown Street).

Best tracks: Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; and Rocket in my Pocket. Preferably all three heard in a row.

July 25: Mellow, lo-fi stuff is what I go for. New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo with their vast catalogue of new, old and cover songs is it. Although Stuff Like That There, their new album will not be out before August end, they’ve been releasing a few songs, three till date.

Two to tengo: Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, the band that's got the mellow in their music.

Two to tengo: Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, the band that's got the mellow in their music.

And I begin with their cover of The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love, acoustic-y and delightful. The others from the new album are Automatic Doom and Deeper Into Movies, which actually is a new interpretation of an old, more electric version of the song by the band (yes, they sometimes do those kind of covers too, re-tweaking their own compositions).

After the three, I go for their 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, and 1990’s Fakebook, which has 11 cover songs, including Here Comes My Baby by Cat Stevens and Oklahoma U.S.A. by The Kinks, plus a few originals.

Best tracks: Friday I’m in Love; Yellow Sarong; and Upside-Down.

July 27: It’s a Sunday and I need to get ready for tomorrow’s inevitable blues. I go for the soundtrack to the movie Southpaw, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the boxer Billy Hope.

In the ring: Southpaw, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, has two standout tracks by Eminem.

In the ring: Southpaw, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, has two standout tracks by Eminem.

Mainly hip-hop and rap, and produced by Eminem who has two standout tracks on it, Phenomenal, and Kings Never Die (on which Gwen Stefani joins in), it features many stars from hip-hop, R&B and rap – 50 Cent, Joey Bada$$, Slaughterhouse and The Notorious B.I.G. The soundtrack is super and makes me want to watch the film, which, considering that it was released only on July 24, I haven’t yet.

Best tracks: Phenomenal; R.N.S.; and Raw.

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My vinyl copies of two of John Mayall’s albums, The Turning Point and Empty Rooms, are long gone. I don’t remember how I lost them or who borrowed them and never returned them – a common enough way to lose albums in the 1980s when I still used to lend music to others (now I simply share files).

Both the albums came out in 1969 but I got to listen to them several years later. Mayall, the legendary English bluesman in whose band, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, big names such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, John McVie and Jack Bruce cut their teeth in the 1960s, turned 81 in 2014. That’s the year he also released a new album, A Special Life. Listen to that album and you’ll see why he’s still the boss of British blues.

On A Special Life, Mayall sings a number of covers but his own song, World Gone Crazy, which is about the effects of religious intolerance, is the album’s must-listen track. Listening to it, I wanted to listen again to the two albums that I lost years ago. I have them in digital formats and in the cloud but it’s not the same thing. I heard them but missed the vinyls with their sleeves, album art and the text.

On The Turning Point (a live recording) and Empty Rooms (a studio album), Mayall had done away with loud electric guitars and drums and relied on horns, flutes, acoustic guitars and bass guitars that made the two albums sound spare but tight and intense.

Also watch: John Mayall 80th anniversary tour “full concert” – Marseille 2014

Turning Point has songs influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1960s – the politically charged The Laws Must Change and I’m Gonna Fight for You JB, a tribute to JB Lenoir, a black American bluesman who died in 1967 and whose songs dealt with issues of politics and racism.

On Empty Rooms also there are signs of the charged-up 1960s (Plan Your Revolution) but there are also several mellow love songs (Thinking of My Woman, To a Princess, Many Miles Apart) that strike a very intimate and personal note.

On Apple Music, I found Simla Beat '70, it has tracks from forgotten Indian rock bands.

I have heard quite a few Mayall albums (his discography is long; and his band line-ups have changed frequently) and his style of blues is quite heavily influenced by the Chicago blues sound – with themes dealing with city life (my reco on the leading exponents of the genre to explore: Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor but there are dozens of others). Like his compatriots, The Rolling Stones, Mayall’s music is highly influenced by the American blues but unlike the Stones, he stuck to the blues mainstream.

Re-hearing the two old albums, rekindled the blues bug and I spent hours trying to locate the 40th Anniversary Collection of Alligator Records CDs that I knew I’d bought a few years back. A renowned blues label, Alligator marked its 40th anniversary with the release of a 2-CD set with 38 songs.

As it happened, I couldn’t find it. I knew I had it. I knew I hadn’t lent it to anyone but yet I couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that I’d bought it just after it came out via Amazon back in 2011 and that my account in Amazon’s Music Storage in the cloud would have all the albums that I ever bought from the website plus all of what else I’d uploaded.

So, right now, as I write this, the Alligator album is streaming off the cloud. And exactly at this point, it’s Charlie Musselwhite, the phenomenally talented harmonica player doing Where Hwy 61 Runs.

Also watch: JJ Grey & Mofro – The Sun Is Shining Down

It’s a fine album, the 40th Anniv from Alligator Records. It’s got a mix of old blues musicians as well as the new. So you have Hound Dog and Buddy Guy and Albert Collins sharing an album with newer performers in the genre such as JJ Grey & Mofro, Janiva Magness (listen to her Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love) and Eric Lindell, a New Orleans-based bluesman whose guitar has a healthy proclivity to jam!

DOWN MEMORY LANE:
While I’m talking of streaming, cloud storage and so on, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve been trying out Apple Music, the new music streaming service.

First, it’s dirt cheap (Rs 120 per month for unlimited streaming after the three-month free trial); second, I get to hear a 24×7, always on radio (this morning at 7.30, Elton John was DJ-ing); and third, I can find almost anything I want to. Or at least that’s what I decided to challenge.

I looked for an ancient psych-rock band from my old hometown (then called Calcutta), Great Bear. They played gigs in the city way back in the early 1970s. I found them. Not only that, I found two albums, Simla Beat ’70 and Psych Rock from India. Both are crammed with tracks from forgotten old Indian rock bands. Worth checking out. In heaps.

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The late American singer Nina Simone’s voice was markedly distinctive. A contralto (the term used to describe female singers with the lowest musical pitch), when Simone sang, her voice seemed full of passion and character – a voice that you couldn’t not take note of.

In recent weeks, I’ve been listening to several of her albums: 1974’s It Is Finished, 1984’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s and the mega ‘Best of’ collection, Sugar In My Bowl, which, on two discs, has 40 songs spanning the early part of her career.

Nina Simone – The Pusher

Simone, a North Carolina preacher’s child, wanted to be a classical pianist but couldn’t get admission to a music school because she was black. She turned then to playing and singing in small venues and clubs, covering everything from jazz, gospel and blues to pop and R&B.

I Put a spell on you: The late American singer Nina Simone’s voice was markedly distinctive. During performances, she often blended dialogue with the audience. (Photos: Getty Images)

I Put a spell on you: The late American singer Nina Simone’s voice was markedly distinctive. During performances, she often blended dialogue with the audience. (Photos: Getty Images)

Many of her recordings are of songs written by others but covered by her in a style that is her own. On It Is Finished, she does a version of The Pusher, a song that was made famous by Steppenwolf but was written by Hoyt Axton.

Simone’s blues-soul version of what is originally a rock classic is unique. As is her cover of Mr. Bojangles, the country song that has been covered by dozens of musicians, including Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond and Arlo Guthrie.

Her own songs span an impressive range of themes. Mississippi Goddam, which became a civil activists’ anthem, was written after the bombing and killings of blacks in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s.

Mississippi Goddam

I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl, a delightful blues song, was based on a composition with a similar title (Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl) by Bessie Smith, the early 20th century blues singer, but with Simone’s own tweak to the lyrics. But the one song that got her fame and became her first hit in America was George and Ira Gershwin’s I Loves You, Porgy.

I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl

Simone’s was not an easy life. Her early years as a performer were filled with long hours at small bars and clubs where she sang nightly. Her husband (a former New York cop) who also managed her career was abusive and violent (the marriage finally broke up).

And finally, after finding success as a prolific recording artist and performer, she had to live in exile in France for much of the latter part of her life because of taxes that she left unpaid in the US (as part of her protest against her country’s involvement in the Vietnam war).

I had read about Simone and her troubled life but last week when a film turned up, a biopic titled What Happened, Miss Simone?, with rare footage, interviews and narratives, it gave me a deeper insight into one of America’s finest musicians – as well as an inspiration to rediscover Simone’s music.

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood: I had read about Simone and her troubled life. Last week, a film titled What Happened, Miss Simone? turned up –  with rare footage, interviews and narratives.

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood: I had read about Simone and her troubled life. Last week, a film titled What Happened, Miss Simone? turned up – with rare footage, interviews and narratives.

The film has some footage of her performances, which were known for their magnetic nature and her powerful presence. She often blended dialogue with the audience or just self-spoken words into songs.

Simone died in France in 2003. She was 70. Her discography lives on, of course, with her music frequently used by others – from filmmakers to rap artists.

As I wrote this, I was listening, back-to-back, to her versions of three songs: Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne; The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun; and Bob Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. All three are classic songs. Without doubt, Simone’s versions must have made their composers proud.

Here Comes The Sun

DOWN MEMORY LANE:
I just managed to restrain the temptation to lead with this part of Download Central. Last Sunday at 8am, I used a combination of Airtel, Google Chromecast, my Internet browser, my laptop, my TV set, and (of course) my credit card, to watch in its entirety (three hours plus) the first concert of Grateful Dead’s last tour from Santa Clara in California.

Touch of grey: Last Sunday, I live streamed a Grateful Dead concert. It was superb.

Touch of grey: Last Sunday, I live streamed a Grateful Dead concert. It was superb.

I was, of course, in my bedroom. Trey Anastasio (lead guitar) joined the remaining members of the Dead (Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) as did Bruce Hornsby (piano) and Jim Chimenti (keyboards).

The setlist was vintage Grateful Dead: think Truckin’, Alligator, Cryptical Envelopment, Dark Star, St. Stephen, Drums, The Other One and plenty, plenty more. Superb. The closest you could get to a Dead gig in Gurgaon.

Grateful Dead

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