Virtuoso is Kolkata guitarist Amyt Datta’s other name
If any Indian musician could be a contender for a term synonymous with virtuoso, it would be Kolkata-based guitarist Amyt Datta, who made a rare appearance in Mumbai at the Jio World Centre on September 1, 2023. Being part of the Electric Power Quartet – along with Sambit Chatterjee on drums, Aakash Ganguly on bass, and Samrat Mukherjee on keyboards – the announcement of Datta’s arrival in Mumbai was not only an event by itself, but immediately ensured that the box office was soon placed under the category of “house full”, and how well deserved it turned out to be…
In one of those rare moments for the organizers in having a delayed start to the event – moreso due to the high standards set in the past, even eight minutes off appeared to be eternity – Datta strode onto the performance area followed by his power unit, as the quartet immediately launched into the opening track of “Ironic Bironic”, the “Bironic” of which Datta eventually explained was meaningless but was added as it rhymed with “Ironic”. With the sound of drums providing the necessary percussive beat to the slow built up of the song, the balance instruments eventually joined to complete the rhythmic grooves of the set opener. With “Pulse” as the next song, the generic throb moved into a mostly rock-oriented vein with Datta’s guitar-playing ripping into electric jazz-rock. With the pace dropping thereafter with the introduction to the softer “Remembrance”, the ballad had Datta’s wailing guitar as the song’s mainstay. “Stain” followed with the bass heavy song showcasing the talent of Aakash Ganguly, familiar to Mumbai audiences as bassist of the Arinjoy Trio, which played at the same venue on June 7 earlier in the year (sudeepaudio.com/saundcheck/mumbai-receives-the-jio-blues). The funk of “Black Pages” soon displayed the flair of the band across multiple genres, before “Introit” focused on Samrat Mukherjee’s mastery of ebony and ivory instruments across multiple keyboards, especially during an interlude dedicated to his skill. With “Camellia”, Datta received a solo spot as the balance members provided him a musical room with a view into this ballad, which found Datta taking a more introspective, stripped-down approach, but one that still showcased his weaving a delicate patchwork of nylon-string harmonies; certainly one of the highlights of the concert. The unpredictability of “Erraticus” was followed by “Red Plant”, a much required commentary on the existing state of the environment with its ever changing tempos reiterating the guitarist’s efforts as a skilled improviser. With the uptempo “Chase” as the penultimate song, it was befitting that Sambit Chatterjee received an opportunity of soloing on drums and stretching out his incredible capabilities. “Dark City” concluded the set with a bass solo opening, resulting in an almost hour, 50 minutes of shimmering quality as Datta laced together his complex melodies using a modicum of effects on his guitar, supported by tightly set arrangements for the band.
With a remarkable pool of Mumbai-based musicians present at the event, including Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendonsa, Zubin Balaporia, and Ranjit Barot, it effectively echoed the hallowed respect for Amyt Datta. Meanwhile, from artist management to production and, even handling the lighting for the Amyt Datta Electric Power Quartet in the auditorium, the event was superbly coordinated by a young, passionate member of the organizer, Sreejata Gupta.
Independent music has always had its niche and, kick starting the activities through the past years, was the extraordinarily gifted Amyt Datta, who initially garnered attention during the ‘80s as a member of popular rock band Shiva, as also through ‘Red Plant’, an acoustic album with seven pieces of improvisational music, released on December 10, 2021. Stylistically, it is an amalgamation of different musical journeys and experiences and, sound-wise, Datta essentially plays his compositions with technical brilliance, which augured well for his present live performance that featured two tracks from it: the title song, and “Erraticus”. The album is a relaxing, deceptively understated album that focuses on Datta’s expertise, and was conceptualised, recorded, and mixed during 2018-2021 with all the songs composed and mixed by Datta.
In renewing contact with Datta in 2018, when he played at Mumbai’s The Quarter, Royal Opera House, Datta also led a quartet then, a contemporary improvisational band that explored the depths of instrumental rhythms through original Datta selections that could be broadly described as eclectic.
Nevertheless, in actuality, Datta came into his own decades ago through earlier musical associations when, in the late ‘70s, he met Jayashree and Gyan Singh at Beatstock, La Martiniere’s band competition. They soon became friends and eventual long-time musical collaborators, all of whom this writer first met in 1996 while leading the international music vertical at The Gramophone Company Of India [popularly identified as HMV, and now known as Saregama], which had plans to record the trio in London through then UK-based licensor EMI International. However, those plans fell through with a change in top level management but, as luck would have it, the trio floated Skinny Alley as their latest incarnation then in continuum of Kolkata-based bands helmed by Gyan and Jayashree Singh. In 2003, the pioneering indie band released ‘Escape The Roar’, the first English language album by an Indian band on label EMI India. For the trivia-minded, on Datta’s ‘Red Plant’ album, he features the son of Jayashree and Gyan Singh, Jivraj, on drums, who also performed at the Jio World Centre as part of Parekh & Singh on May 11 earlier this year.
Although a far cry from what he looked like in the past, Datta now wears short-cropped hair and thin-rimmed dark glasses but, fortunately, there is no change in his guitar playing prowess as, during his live performance in Mumbai, he indulged in songs from his solo albums and one in future to reiterate what Rolling Stone magazine has stated about Amyt Datta’s expertise as the country’s “true live guitar god”! Datta’s playing is irresistible, perhaps more so now than ever, and the material has genuine melodic interest, thanks in no small part to Datta’s intelligent, beautifully felt compositions and playing. Comfortable in both electric and acoustic settings, and with a career that has straddled multiple music worlds, guitarist Amyt Datta continues powering his electric quartet through musical circuitry…nah, make that magical wizardry!