Tribute albums always make me cringe, because I have heard way too many that either feel indulgent or like a cash-in. But more and more I am hearing tributes that are smart and thoughtful and pay real tribute to great artists. ‘Jazz and All That’ is such a tribute, going far beyond just being a Dave Brubeck tribute album.
Musical Genre: Jazz
Artist: The Sachal Studios Orchestra
From the artist:
Sachal Jazz Ensemble, master musicians from Pakistan who incorporate ancient instruments, such as sitar, sarod, tabla, and dholak into the sounds and rhythms of iconic jazz repertoire.
The Sachal Studios Orchestra grew out of the re-emergence of music as Pakistan came out of the leadership of dictators. Many artists who were forced to abandon music were able to rediscover it, and got together to blend all they knew with new things they learned as Western influences flourished. The results are stunning in many ways.
For this recording, Izzat Majeed has arranged a number of classic songs for the orchestra, including traditional instruments like the sitar and tabla, and modern instruments such as guitar, bass and drums. The results are dramatic and you are immediately struck by songs that are familiar yet different. It is why Dave Brubeck was so fond of their version of ‘Take Five’.
But while it could easily have become just a gimmick juxtaposing different instruments, it is instead a true fusion music that blends east and west effortlessly and naturally and allows you to simply experience great music in a new way.
The album starts off with a great Stevie Wonder track from his classic ‘Talking Book’ album, which is transformed with the novel instrumentation. You can recognize Stevie in there, but Majeed has playfully altered the arrangement so that is swinging and funky all at once. The merging of the original style, jazz sensibilities and a Pakistani vision really makes this one of the best covers I’ve heard of the song – including the excellent ones by Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones!
The rest of the album is filled with similarly well-done songs, but several stand out for me. The classic ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ has some great covers, but too often recent versions have been cloyingly nostalgic. This take is fun and sentimental and dreamy. ‘The Pink Panther’ theme is guaranteed to put a smile on your face unless you have no soul!
‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a song now appearing as a cover for the third time this year! And once again it is a treasure trove of beauty that gets to the pure genius of Lennon & McCartney. Dave Brubeck gets only one song in spite of the album title, but it is one of his best – ‘Blue Rondo A la Turk’.
The final four songs on the album are stunning. We start with a touching version of R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, move on to an eastern interpretation of Bossa Nova with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Wave’, through a great read of Pat Metheny’s ‘To The End Of The World’ where the sitar plays a great surrogate for Metheny’s sitar-guitar sound, and end with a reverent arrangement of the traditional ‘Morning Has Broken’ made famous by Cat Stevens.
‘Quick Hit’ Song: “Blue Rondo A la Turk” – you know an album is good when you stare at the song list and think … which do I choose? I could have selected ‘You’ve Got It Bad Girl’, ‘To The End Of The World’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ or ‘Everybody Hurts’. They are all truly great songs. So why this song? Because of the way the sitar and tabla mesh so naturally with the polyrhythms Brubeck threaded into the song. There is a reason ‘Time Out’ is one of the classic albums of jazz, and it is largely the interplay of rhythm and harmonic invention. Sachal Orchestra masterfully works through this rendition, keeping it as fresh and exciting as the first time I heard the song more than 35 years ago.
Would I recommend?: Absolutely! As I mentioned at the beginning, I was skeptical and listened to it for a while before putting on my iPhone. Since then I have been playing it quite a bit in the car and while cooking at home. The family likes most of the songs as well.
Suggested audience: This album appeals to most anyone who likes music, albeit at different levels. You need an open ear for jazz, orchestral arrangements and Pakistani instrumentation. Once you have that, the quality of the music will carry you! Check out the video and see if this is for you!
Source: Publisher provided review CD
Here is the group playing REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’: