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April 30 2019
The Revolver Club
Written By The Revolver Club - April 30 2019
A native of Goa, the territory in western India that was a Portuguese colony for 451 years until 1961, Gonsalves grew up studying Western classical music in his parish school. Curiously, his first job was in a circus band. But his talent was too enormous to be contained by a canvas tent and he was soon leading bands in prominent nightclubs in Bombay and Calcutta. He played tenor, alto and soprano saxophones (and sometimes the flute), earning gained the reputation for being India’s most accomplished reed player: his phrasing was impeccable, his improvisations startlingly inventive. One fan from the time wrote of Gonsalves’s music “rearing and swaying and striking like a serpent”. Another went into raptures about his “improvised jag…fuddled and wild”.
Gonsalves is best remembered for his quintet at Bombay’s Astoria Hotel in the mid-1960s and various formations in Calcutta in which he participated in the next decade, along with the pianist Louis Banks and the singer Pam Crain. These bands played a mixture of styles: post-bop, soul, funk and raga-based jazz. But because India’s recording industry was focussed on film music, very little of Gonsalves’s work from that time was actually preserved on wax. The tunes on the 45s he cut were probably picked as much for their commercial appeal as much for the creativity they display. Despite this, they present a glimpse of dynamism and originality that characterised the Indian jazz scene in the 1960s – and of the abundant talents of Gonsalves.
Jazz and gospel have long shared the same pew, so Gonsalves decision to devote himself to religious music may not be so unusual after all. In fact, a clue to his future may have been contained in the title of the track that headlines this collection: Devapriya – a Sanskrit word that means Beloved of God.