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23 February 2000

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A gentle drummer from the land of techno Shottam at his recent Bangalore concert

Ramesh Shottam, jazz drummer from Germany, played recently in Bangalore, the city of his childhood. He is glad the techno craze is ending

"It's all mostly rock and techno that's popular with the young", Ramesh Shottam, drummer and percussionist, says, in answer to a question about whether jazz has a good following in Germany. "Techno started in Germany in fact. It was invented and recorded in garages there. But thankfully the techno craze seems to be ending."

Based in Cologne, Shottam has been living in Germany for 18 years. He's only now coming out with his first record, although he's constantly performing and always on the move. The music publishing industry is a hard nut to crack, he says, but he agrees that production and distribution costs are now not such a problem because of digital technology and the Internet revolution. When he plays his jazz drums or picks up a tambourine or a thavil, though, you get a deceptive sense of effortless efficiency that belies the hard work behind it.

The impression is due to the quiet style he uses, uninfluenced even slightly by rock, unlike some modern drummers who tend to hit the drums hard from time to time or adopt heavy rock beats. Even in mainstream jazz, there have always been flamboyant drummers, such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich in the swing and be-bop periods. Their showing off comes through on record from time to time even if it doesn't obviously sound jarring or hog the limelight at the expense of the other musicians.

Listening carefully

I first heard Shottam playing in an open-air concert at Bangalore's Cubbon Park about a decade ago, with a German percussion-based ensemble called Drummele Maan (meaning "Drumming Man", I think). Then, as recently at the Alliance Francaise in Bangalore, he jammed with the Karnataka College of Percussion, but the association goes back to the '80s. On stage he recalls the history of R A Ramamani, the KCP vocalist, composing a piece called Yerrapriya, now a standard in the jazz-Indian music fusion canon, in a hotel room in Germany in 1983.

When he listens intently to the KCP group executing a Karnatik piece and chooses the exact moment to time his entry into the foray with a gently emphatic drum roll, or when he joins them on the thavil in a round of percussion soloing, you know that here is a drummer who listens carefully to his peers and knows exactly where to pitch his interaction with them. The seamlessness of the interaction is also evident when he introduces one of his compositions with Indian vocal percussion, and then Christopher Dell on vibraphone and Holger Mantey on piano pick up the rhythm and the melody.

Bangalore connection

It's not surprising that Shottam keeps coming to India, Bangalore in particular, since this is the city where he grew up and had his schooling. Like the American-born alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano, who also lives in Germany, he works with the KCP when he comes here. Two years ago I heard him here with both Mariano and the KCP, besides Bangalore's own jazzman Amit Heri. The regular Mariano-KCP sessions have never had a better drummer than him.

But the KCP and Indian music aren't all that he's been interacting with outside jazz. I heard him in 1994 performing with an international line-up called Chris Hinze Combination in which he combined with, among others, a Zairean percussionist called Hugh Kanza in a session of jazz fused with Zairean/African music. Kanza may have been more prominent because his contribution was part of the African input, but Shottam was never out of his depth, in fact he was supremely at ease. He'll be back at the end of this year with a group that fuses jazz with Irish folk music to prove, I'm sure, that all the world's music is his stage.


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