CHASSOL | London, Queen Elizabeth Hall

The hypnotic pull that French pianist and composer Chassol exerts over his audience is a compelling testimony to his originality and craftsmanship. Taking as his starting point a trip to Calcutta and Vanarasi in July 2012, Indiamore is his love letter to the country’s people and places, its chaos and calm. Projected onto the screen behind him for the EFG London Jazz Festival is a documentary of sorts, his travelogue of Indian street hawkers, taxi drivers, traffic jams and riverbank scenes. As these fragments of Indian life are playfully spliced and looped – sounds are harmonized, musically re-accommodated into the warmth of Chassol’s electric piano and the groove of Lawrence Clais’ drumming. The result, as Chassol would have us call it, is an ‘ultrascore’ – a unique audio-visual collaboration of two cultures: the Indian world captured on film and the dexterous French jazz-funk performed on the stage in front of us.

Except collaboration isn’t quite the right word here. Indiamore, its 22 tracks performed here in entirety, leaves us with no doubt that Chassol is firmly at the helm of this project. An Indian woman’s gentle confession to camera – ‘Music is God, my love’ – is re-appropriated, time and time again, into a coyly lilting soul groove; in XIXth Century the two-tone cadence of a car-horn amid a traffic jam is rehoused into a pulsing pop tune. And whilst it is fascinating to observe the way Chassol re-directs these incidental field recordings into new shapes and rhythms, there is also something quite unsettling about it: in his efforts to lovingly harmonise Indian musicality with his own, the richness of India’s soundscape is sometimes subsumed – swallowed up, even – by a decidedly Western musical agenda. In Little Krishna and The Girls, for instance, an initially haunting folk theme sung by a group of young girls is engulfed by cheerfully catchy pop, its original tabla accompaniment barely audible under Clais’ upbeat drumming. In one of the film’s most striking cinematic scenes, a young Indian woman teaches another a beautiful dance, but the original vocal refrain is re-tuned so many times to fit the new balladic chord sequence that its initial poetry is lost.

Where Chassol’s technique really flies is in moments where his music illuminates a quality already quietly evident in the scene he presents us with. In Our Father, Chassol gives us a class of school children reciting the Lord’s Prayer, all wide eyes and fidgeting as the camera pans across them. Here, he gently lets their voices take the lead, guiding him through a series of unusual, darkly haunting chord progressions – and the effect is startlingly moving.

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