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‘We got amazing response from audiences in Malaysia and Germany’

  • Published at 04:41 pm June 28th, 2018
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An interview with jazz guitarist and band leader Imran Ahmed

Imran Ahmed Trio is a jazz group consisting of Imran Ahmed (Guitar), Mohaimin Karim (Bass) and Arjo Sreshtho (Drums). The trio has been performing extensively throughout Dhaka and hopes to establish a prominent jazz scene in Bangladesh. The band’s music incorporates modern jazz,ballads, latin music, flamenco and more. The group released its debut album ‘Away and Home’ consisting of five originals. The trio toured Germany and Malaysia in May, where it played at renowned venues and jazz festivals. 

Weekend Tribune recently talked to the group’s leader Imran Ahmed to know more.

What influenced you to play jazz?

I just started listening to a lot of jazz music at some point while growing up. And selfishly

enough, I fell in love with the process of learning jazz, because it was pushing my abilities to understand music even more, in general. It still is and now it has become a lifestyle.

When did the trio come together and did you have the same influences?

The trio came together sometime in the year of 2016. Yes, we had similar tastes in music. 

Jazz is new in Bangladesh. How your music has been received since you started to perform?

Jazz is indeed very new in Bangladesh to be considered as a scene. But it’s growing fast and

honestly, very well received by the local audiences ever since we started to perform live. And I believe a lot of people are considering getting into this kind music and acknowledging its potential. Also, the number of guitar players and others instrumentalists who reach out to me to help them learn jazz is overwhelming. Hence, I find it safe to say, it’s growing fast. 

You mentioned Chick Corea as a major influence. Which line up you like best?

Chick Corea and the Vigil is my favorite line up till now. The trio set up with Avishai Cohen on

bass and Jeff Ballard on drums comes second in my list. 

Although it would be too simplistic to define jazz merely as 'complex', it is nevertheless true that from Django Reinhardt to Wes Montgomery, from Joe Pass to Allan Holdsworth there is an element of virtuosity that defines how the music is perceived or heard. Do you feel you are able to produce music that is compelling to an audience that listens to jazz?

Yes and no. ‘No’, because making music only for people who listen to jazz has never been my plan. I personally listen to many different kinds of music that are not necessarily labelled as jazz. ‘Yes’, because I personally am a huge fan of jazz music, and obviously there are elements that jazz listeners will be able to relate to.

You also mention Brazilian music. Is Charlie Byrd an influence?

Brazilian music has many different styles that originated in different parts of Brazil. And each of them have really particular ways of playing and composing. I am still exploring new Brazilian music everyday and I am enjoying the journey a lot. Charlie Byrd is not from Brazil, but he did play a lot of bossa nova music, which again is not a traditional Brazilian form but was developed and made popular around 1950’s-60’s when Brazilian music started to meet American music. Traditional forms like choro, forro, samba, frevo, baijao date back way before that.

Why Bangladesh doesn't have world class players like Gino Banks and Ridu Shaw, who are from just next door?

Simply because we did not have musicians who had taste for this kinds of music and the will to be part of the global culture. Another fact could be, unlike nowadays, our country did not have promoters who would promote jazz music and bring in great jazz musicians. India had Carlton Kitto, a master jazz guitarist who even shared the stage with Duke Ellington and had impressed him with his skills. Legendary jazz musicians always visited India and India was in fact a tour stop for touring jazz musicians, which by itself was a great source of inspiration for thinking about building a career in jazz music or at least for young musicians to be getting into it. For these reasons, I don’t think it’s a wise comparison you made, because Bangladesh is a young country when compared to India. This is not a competition.

You mentioned Shai Maestro as an influence. You shared a stage with his group in 2015 in Dhaka. McLaughlin headlined that show. What was it like opening in that festival? Give us a sense of what changed for you since then, in terms of your musical perception and performance.

Both Shai Maestro and John McLaughlin have been great influences for me and my bandmates. It was a great pleasure seeing them perform live and obviously getting to mingle with them backstage was extraordinary. Nothing has significantly changed in terms of my own musical perception and performance, but that festival itself marked the beginning of an international quality jazz scene in Bangladesh. And a lot of touring jazz musicians now consider visiting Bangladesh to play concerts. Thanks to Blues Communication and Bengal Foundation for taking that huge initiative.

You talked about developing a world jazz sound. To that end, how much influence you draw from the classical music of the subcontinent and folk music of Bangladesh?

My idea of a world jazz sound might be very specific to my own vision. What I mean by that is that I don’t want to restrict myself to a particular genre or a style of playing jazz. I like studying all kinds of music. About drawing influences from eastern classical music, every musician has their specific style of approaching improvisation and compositions and mine is close to that of Indian classical music, because I listened to a lot of that music and also studied a bit. But that’s not all, I also like incorporating other styles I mentioned, eg, flamenco, Brazilian music, Middle Eastern music and so on.

Your playing in your song 'Three' seems to have elements of raag. And may be hint of folk melody in 'Rhumba' (both based on short clips on your Facebook). Did you consciously incorporate that? 

Great that you heard elements of raaga music in ‘Three’ and folk elements in ‘Rhumba’. But I did not incorporate any of that knowingly. To tell you a bit about these two songs, ‘Three’ is rather contemporary in structure and has a lot of space for improvisation, hence it can go on  various directions depending on mood. ‘Rhumba’ is straight up inspired by the sound of flamenco music. I tried to use some of those elements as compositional tools.

Where can someone in Bangladesh go to start learning jazz playing? With high quality tuition available online do you even need a local teacher? 

Well, I could share a list. Drummers can get in touch and get tremendous help in jazz playing from Arjo Shrestho or Towfiq Arifin Turjo. Guitar and bass players can get in touch with me to learn about jazz and the stuff I play. Anybody willing to learn saxophone can get in touch with Rahin Haider. Sadly we don’t have piano players, and many other instruments that are used globally. Yes, a lot of tuition are available online and is indeed a great source to collect materials. But a local teacher would be the best option, because it’s very easy to get lost on the Web unless you know specifically what you want to learn. And instructional videos will not answer your confusions about the lessons.

You have just been on a tour to Malaysia and Germany. Tell us about that. 

The tour went great! We were supported by our Ministry of Cultural Affairs to make the tour happen. The response both in Malaysia and Germany were amazing. Being a contemporary jazz band from Bangladesh, we really did not expect such a great response from the audiences overseas where they have legit scene and industry for jazz music. This time we played two shows for ‘World Youth Jazz Festival in Malaysia’ followed by our Germany tour. And we played in a festival arranged by Jazzstudio Nürnberg, which is one of the oldest jazz clubs in Europe.  Then we played home concerts and also in local venues and bars there. The places we visited and played at were, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Kitzingen and Zirndorf.

What is your future plan, specially any plan for recording and release.

Yes, we will be recording our second album in a month, and we are expecting to release the album by the end of this year.