There is something about south Asians and jazz. The open horizon of possibilities perhaps. The discipline of discipline. The conjurers trick of masking precision in seeming effortlessness and spontaneity.
Of course the theoretical synergies between raga-based music and jazz, especially the reliance of both on the imagination and improvisation of the players is well documented. But still, the number of contemporary jazz artists (pianists, saxophonists, singers, drummers, guitarists) who are from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi (and even Nepali) backgrounds is remarkable. The subject of a future book perhaps.
And here is one more. Sachal Vasandani, the son of Sindhi immigrants to Chicago, has over the past decade or so released a number of albums that have placed him in the higher ranks of American jazz singers.
A native of Chicago, Vasandani attracted attention in 1999 when he was named Down Beat magazine’s Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year. He has worked with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. His debut album was Eyes Wide Open. He has performed consistently worldwide since his first release on Mack Avenue Records in 2007. His second album, We Move (2009), was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. He has collaborated with many of the prominent jazz artists of his generation and those of earlier generations, including: Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Bobby McFerrin, John Clayton, Stefon Harris, Gerald Clayton, Taylor Eigsti, Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Camila Meza, and others.
We Move (2009) is his second album. A good, if not entirely brilliant album, its hard to deny that Vasandani doesn’t have a feel for his chosen genre. And his voice is a pleasure to listen to.
Here is what All Music has to say about today’s selection:
Sachal Vasandani‘s second CD shows he is maturing as a jazz singer and composer, continuing to refine his approach while landing safely in flat fields of open expanse. His voice rarely wavers or explores upper or lower registers; rather, it stays within a comfort zone that avoids much of a challenge. This consistency serves his songs and his audience well, working within a current trend of singers who stay within specific rhythmic boundaries and don’t really push the envelope. Vasandani is helped by pianist Jeb Patton and a backing trio that has been with the vocalist for almost a decade, while co-producers John Clayton and guitarist Doug Wamble give him a bit of a push here and there, mixing up standards with subtle originals. The title track shows the most originality in a steady, repeating, and wistful mode; “Ring Road” (contributed by drummer Quincy Davis) has Vasandani in a playful, ever cool mood; and “Don’t Worry About Me” has that contemporary hip-hop rhythm originated by Ahmad Jamal under the singer’s slick, level-headed style. The old Joe Williams number “By the River St. Marie” is bopped hard within the controlled dynamics of Vasandani‘s voice, and he goes for some scat on the intro of the combo tune “Once in a While” and Patton‘s “Horizons.” The group covers the chestnuts “No More” and Thelonious Monk‘s “Monk’s Dream,” both with lyrics penned by Jon Hendricks, but the results are not optimal or perfect. Where the singer is most convincing crops up in an elegant, confident manner on “Escape/There’s a Small Hotel,” but especially during “There Are Such Things,” a serene interpretation that comes straight from the heart. The most unusual arrangement is more in a baroque or chamber style on the low-key “Royal Eyes,” which merges effectively into a small samba. After two recordings, Sachal Vasandani has found somewhat of a niche, but needs to ramp it up creatively and take more chances in order to stand out from the small group of contemporary male jazz vocalists.
You may have your own opinions. But in any case, Vasandani is another chapter in the fascinating history of contemporary jazz and it’s cohort of ‘desi’ practitioners.
01 Escape – There’s a small hotel
02 No more
03 Don’t worry about me
04 Every ocean, every star
05 We move
06 Once in a while – Horizons
07 There are such things
08 By the river St. Marie
09 Ring road (back to you)
10 Royal eyes
11 Monk’s dream
12 I’d let you know
14 Travelin’ light