Report: Jacob Collier in Mumbai - Hindustan Times
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Report: Jacob Collier in Mumbai

ByMihir Chitre
Nov 24, 2023 06:06 PM IST

The only British artist to have won a Grammy for each of his first four albums, Collier transformed the concert into an utterly immersive musical experience

4,200 for a Gold section ticket – which is still just the third best section at the venue – is the kind of price usually paid for a multi-band concert held over two days. And here I was spending that much for a 90-minute show. I wasn’t the only one. Tickets to Jacob Collier’s Mumbai concert at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) were being sold at the pace of Bumrah’s bowling and I was grateful to have grabbed one. The 29-year-old is the only British artist to have won a Grammy for each of his first four albums – not even The Beatles or Pink Floyd have managed that – and the buzz was that something spectacular was about to happen. Having attended hundreds of music concerts, I thought I knew what to expect.

Jacob Collier (Harald Krichel/Wikimedia Commons) PREMIUM
Jacob Collier (Harald Krichel/Wikimedia Commons)

I was wrong.

On November 3, Collier became the first international artist to perform at the spectacular new venue. I walked in with high expectation, and I walked out dazed, almost stupefied at having witnessed something I had never seen, heard or experienced before. Jacob Collier is a vocalist, a pianist, a multi-instrumentalist, a songwriter, a music producer. He is jazz, he is melody, he is harmony. In fact, I can’t think of a genre he is not, nor can I point out one or two genres that he certainly is.

Dressed in what looked like a colourful night dress and flip-flops, he walked onto the stage exuding a tremendous energy. A few words about India and Mumbai and he leapt straight into his music. This was a solo with just him and his piano on stage. He started playing some chords – one led to another as he got into the mood. Collier believes music is a feeling and that whatever he is feeling in a particular moment could be and should be expressed through music. He began by creating sounds that seemed deceptively simple but were, in fact, wildly creative. They were consistently melodious and very often haunting. He would play a sequence, start singing along and then ask the audience to join him. Throughout the show, he conducted an orchestra with his hands, telling people sitting in different parts of the theatre to go high or low. This might seem impossible to do with a lay audience, but, fantastically, everything was in sync. It was like he was spontaneously conducting a 2000-person orchestra. And then came the songs. Before each, he’d mutter, “Let’s where this takes us,” and then play whatever came to mind – at least that’s what it looked like. On one occasion, he played a cover of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love. It was nothing like any cover I’ve heard before, and the audience was transformed into his band, all of us singing together, never out of sync! If improvisation and spontaneity are qualities of a genius, he has both.

Jacob Collier performing at NMACC in Mumbai (Mihir Chitre)
Jacob Collier performing at NMACC in Mumbai (Mihir Chitre)

Collier’s original songs are complex and it is quite difficult, almost impossible, to hum along. Yet, he made everyone believe they could; that they were all Mozarts for a moment. That was the level of audience involvement. At some point, he announced he had been mixing music while on the flight to Mumbai and that his latest album, Djesse 4, was now finally ready. The Djesse project started in 2018 and three volumes have been launched so far. The fourth is expected to be the last. Incidentally, the title “Djesse” is based on the soundof his initials – J C.

It is futile to list the songs Collier played that day. Unlike with the work of many other artistes, here there is no clear demarcation between the songs and especially in how the listener experiences them. The whole concert was a compelling and utterly immersive musical experience. Really, Collier’s use of quarter-tones and non-standardized pitch ensures there is absolutely nothing ordinary about him.

When he played his single, The Sun is in Your Eyes:

The sun is in your eyes

Throw me the cold

Throw me the cold, cold water of your smile again

To take me by surprise

You take me by surprise,

the word “surprise” fell on a musical note that was truly surprising. It is now clear why Hans Zimmer called Collier the greatest musical talent he has seen in a generation.” Or why Steve Vai said: “I have never been so blown away by a performance in my life.”

I have to state here that Collier’s music is so path-breaking and often so unimaginably complex that it is not for everyone. The listener must have at least a slightly trained ear to appreciate it. In an interview in The Guardian, he once said: “I’ve never thought about pleasing others. I don’t worry about prestige or genre; I just feel the most pressure from myself. I have so many ideas that I call it ‘creative infinity syndrome’ and the challenge is to work out a way for these ideas to be born into the world. I have to do that in the most honest and Jacobean fashion that I can.”

A musician of musicians, Jacob Collier reinforces the idea that a great artist breaks every rule by assuming that there never were any rules at all. What I experienced at NMACC will stay with me. It has got me thinking differently about music and about life itself. And that, surely, is the ultimate aim of all great art.

Mihir Chitre is the author of two books of poetry, ‘School of Age’ and ‘Hyphenated’. He is the brain behind the advertising campaigns ‘#LaughAtDeath’ and ‘#HarBhashaEqual’ and has made the short film ‘Hello Brick Road’

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