REVIEW: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Sachal Jazz Ensemble at the Barbican

Sachal Jazz Ensemble and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Barbican Hall, June 30th 2014. Picture credit: Prince Abbas

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Sachal Jazz Ensemble
(Barbican, 30th June 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Did the warmth of the audience's response, the standing ovation which the performers in last night's collaboration received from all three levels of the Barbican Hall, take them by surprise? As Wynton Marsalis was announcing what appeared to be an unplanned encore - "We're going to play Tere Ishq Nachya, but we're going to play it better" - quite a few straggling band-members of both the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Sachal Jazz Ensemble were still rushing back to their places onstage.

This collaboration between the JLCO and the master-musicians from Lahore, which has already been a success in both New York and at the Marciac Jazz Festival in France, was making its first London appearance last night, caught the audience's imagination. The joyous sound of three percussionists from the Indian subcontinent cutting loose, in a similar way to the freedom John McLaughlin used to give his fellow band-members in Shakti and Shakti remembered, had an effect which was both invigorating and hypnotic.

Ted Nash and Baquar Abbas
Barbican Hall, June 30th 2014. Picture credit: Prince Abbas

For JLCO, it marks a continuation of such collaborations. Ted Panken's programme note sets the context: the band has worked with gospel choirs (on All Rise), with the Ghanaian percussionist Yacub Addy (on Congo Suite), with Paco De Lucia and Chano Dominguez (on Vitoria Suite). Wynton Marsalis saluted and  thanked the instigator of Sachal, Izzat Majeed. "We will always be thankful to him." Majeed has indeed been a visionary, in ensuring that the players in Lahore who had been stalwarts of the Bollywood film industry continued to have a musical focus and an activity after the film music activity died, by founding the studio. The JLCO had come across the Sachal Ensemble via the Youtube video of Take Five which went viral, and invited them to work together.

As an aside, it was touching to see Darius Brubeck in the audience. His father Dave's visits to India under the auspices of the State Department in the 1960's were what originally fired Izzat Majeed's imagination as a child, and provided the original long-burning fuel for the project.

JLCO brought ten arrangements, including Take Five, which give space for the groups to play together, to allow the contrasts - in meter, in timbre and sonority, in harmonic and melodic presence of the improvisers - to be heard to the full. The first half closer, Ellington's Limbo Jazz, did this most obviously, opening with the flautists Ted Nash (from JLCO) and Baquar Abbas (from Sachal) celebrating the differences of their ways of playing.

Izzat Majeed, Sachal Jazz Ensemble, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Barbican Hall, June 30th 2014. Picture credit: Prince Abbas

A particularly strong solo contribution throughout the evening came from sitar-player Nafees Khan, a master improviser, a real story-teller. Ted Nash's arrangement of the Rogers and Hammerstein/ Coltrane classic My Favourite Things was another highlight, setting the saxophone section the unique challenge of pitting five soprano saxophones against each other, mostly in unison. These five carried it off well, but it's definitely not an effect to be repeated too often. The three trombones of the JLCO were finally given their moment to shine individually and collectively in the encore - perhaps it was planned after all? - and they took it in flamboyant style.

Members of the JLCO will be working with the Young Jazz East Big Band in the Barbican Hall tonight, and their UK tour closes with a final concert in the Blue Note 75 series (an earlier concert reviewed here) tomorrow.

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