Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sachal Studios Orchestra, Sachal Studios Presents Jazz and All That, In Memory of Dave Brubeck

In reality fusion has roots that go back some ways. Of course the Beatles set the stage for Indian-oriented rock combinations. Some of the music of Ravi Shankar, in his movie scores and on the US album Pather Panchali, precursed those developments. And the Bollywood soundtracks at their best combine Western and South Asian instruments and approaches and have been doing so for a very long time.

Out of all that comes a style of large group (studio orchestra) music where the phrasing manner of South Asian classical and some folk music--with melismas and microtonal bends--is taken on at times by the string group and the orchestra as a whole, but the Western component is also present.

We hear a very interesting and well-conceived program of Western songs, some jazz, rock and pop classics, arranged for a South Asian orchestra on Sachal Studios Presents Jazz and All That, in Memory of Dave Brubeck (Sachal Music 026). Why Brubeck? The group does an interesting arrangement of his "Blue Rondo a la Turk" for one thing. And Dave Brubeck at the height of his popularity did a number of tours with his band that stretched across the world. He and the band were fascinated with the musical traditions they found during their tours and did try to incorporate something of what they heard into their music while acting as champions of such sounds in the States. So it isn't really a stretch.

This album is mostly about the sort of large orchestra fusion of East and West that I refer to above. There is a full contingent of strings doing some of those really interesting melodic figures, there is an apt representation of Western instruments, plus South Asian classical instruments playing a prominent role--sitar, tabla, sarangi, bamboo flute, etc.

Producer Izzat Majeed has, I gather, much to do with the outcome we hear on this program. The orchestra operates out of Lahore from what I understand and they are a well-equipped and proficient set of musicians. The repertoire includes a number of what appear to be South Asian popular songs and they sound especially well. Then there is everything from "The Pink Panther Theme" to Stevie Wonder's "You've Got it Bad Girl", the wonderful Brazilian classic "Ponteio", the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" and even R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts".

The arrangements work well once you get used to what is happening. Though there are easy listening touches contained at times within the music you get a shock as the Indo-Pak component comes forward and reminds you that no, this is not grandpa's Mantovani record.

I find the music fascinating. The string arrangements alone are something to focus on. In the end of course it has a total matrix going on and either you'll find it interesting or you won't. If you like Indo-Pak sounds to begin with you are halfway to where they are. Yes, I suppose this a commercial proposition over there, and for that I wish them all success. For us over here, if you really listen to this one, it has much more than song familiarity to offer. It is a special world of fusion, one not always experienced or appreciated in the West. Very well done!

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