Review: Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore - Sachal Jazz
|Artist:||Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore|
|Album:||Sachal Jazz - Interpretations Of Jazz Standards & Bossa Nova|
|Date of Release:||2011/11|
|Country of Release:||UK|
|Sub-Genre/s:||1. East-Meets-West (Indian/Jazz)
2. East-Meets-West (Indian/Jazz)
|Date of Review:||2012/04/06|
Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore Presents Sachal Jazz was released on the Sachal Music label in November last year.
Who? What? one is immediately tempted to ask. Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore are exactly what it says on the tin, a studio orchestra from Pakistan's cultural capital, Lahore, once busily engaged in that culturally so rich and long so overlooked country's once blossoming film industry. The 'what' may not be so easily answered. Sachal Jazz is essentially a selection of jazz standards and classics and classic bossas, arranged for the Sachal Studios Orchestra, basically a string orchestra, variously with guitar, sarod, sitar, santur, bansuri/flute, vocals, the occasional piano, tabla, ghatam and other percussion, as well as, in one instance, flugelhorn and trumpet as well as a choir.
The Sachal Studios Orchestra indisputably excel, both the main string section and soloists, with what is essentially alien material to them, all kudos to these outstanding musicians. (One would strongly have preferred if full individual credits had been included in the sleeve notes though.) First impression on hearing Sachal Jazz was, 'ooh yeah, I like this,' and I still do. Even after probably a couple of dozen listens.
However, at times - indeed, a lot of times - one can't help missing a more prominent double bass or two in the strings, bowed or plucked. As is, the arrangements and the sound are just a touch top heavy a lot of the time, and a solid bit of bass could help a lot with more jazz cred too. But this is a very minor quibble indeed, and ultimately looks at this music the wrong way.
The opening Brubeck classic Take Five immediately grabs the attention, very boldly stating that here is something very different and original, as well as most interesting indeed. Although it largely replaces the cool, laid-back nature of the original with a certain tension and a more driven arrangement, it certainly works well. However, in many ways, the best-working track on Sachal Jazz for me has to be the classic Jobim/Mendonca penned bossa Desafinado. With the restrained percussion and outstanding bansuri (bamboo flute), and the excellent sarod kept predominently in its middle and lower register, even the somewhat driving tabla cannot distract from the sheer beauty and laid-back bossa cool of this great classic. And the soft, mainly sargam (solfrege) vocals add just the perfect touch of heavenliness. One cannot help thinking that Tom Jobim might have liked this.
Of the jazz classics, Grusin's Mountain Dance, played raga-like, works perhaps the best and again is intriguing. The excellent sitar here fits in so perfectly it does not even sound particularly 'alien' or 'exotic.' The mother of all bossas, Jobim/De Moraes' The Girl From Ipanema, again works well, although the percussion can occasionally be a little intrusive. This, combined with the seemingly increasing tempo, sometimes gives this otherwise excellent interpretation a somewhat hurried, percussive feel somehow.
As this takes us halfway through Sachal Jazz, I might as well include a few further brief comments on the rest of this fascinating album. The Garner jazz standard Misty also works extremely well, though the sitar might be a little too warm here perhaps, especially when combined with the rather dry, crisp ghatam (a clay pot drum). The rather more modern Kostenbaden/Gimble 'second wave' bossa Samba De Verao is another delightful arrangement, although one might have liked the santur to have been given a more prominent part more characteristic of the instrument.
The inclusion of the Bacharach/Davis popular song This Guy's In Love With You - superbly crafted tune though it is - on Sachal Jazz sadly does not make the slightest bit of sense here. It just does not fit in with the rest of the album and is neither a jazz classic or standard for that matter. Although a sound arrangement, it sounds more like a MOR compilation album affair with a novelty sarod and just sounds out of place. Further, the inclusion of a second, raga-like arrangement of The Girl From Ipanema makes very little sense. Especially as it sounds even more hurried and percussive than the first. Replacing these last two tracks with another jazz classic or standard and another classic bossa might seem to have made eminently more sense here. Even so, just the first six tracks are definitely worth the price of admission.
From a jazz point of view, overall one might have liked to have heard a bit of serious jazz improvisation now and then, certainly with the jazz classics. But that is not really what this album is about, it is more a case of subsuming jazz classics and bossas into Indo-Pakistani sub-continental musical culture, and as such it works brilliantly. And that even though this evidently seems to be a very much producer/arranger-driven, rather than musician-driven project. It is simply inspired, so kudos to the producer/s and arranger/s too!
In its own way, Sachal Jazz is pioneering an entirely new and original 'genre,' if you like, and I not only like but even admire this album for that as well.
Following on from what has been said already, the most consistent of albums this obviously is not, but, especially if one discounts the last two tracks, it is consistent enough. Sachal Jazz is, all the same, more than compelling - there is something that mesmerises about this album, and its general charm casts a spell that makes you want to listen again. And, indeed, again.
Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore's Sachal Jazz is a remarkable album that should be of huge interest to any jazz or world music enthusiast, and indeed belongs into any good collection.
1. Take Five (D. Brubeck / P. Desmond) - 5:30
Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore
Tanvir Hussain - guitar, sarod
Nafees Khan - sitar
Balu Khan - tabla
Derek Watkins - flugelhorn, trumpet (track 7)
Missing Credits : santoor, bansuri/flute, accordion, harmonica, ghatam, percussion, piano, vocals
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