So, Sachal Jazz Ensemble are coming to London on the 8th of November performing at The Barbican Solo! http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=17131 

This is huge recognition of their quality and innovation. Its also fingers crossed going to be a great platform from which to embark on their India Tour which starts at the end of November. No surprises I will be joining Sachal in India as well. 

To help with their PR and push, in my own capacity I put this montage together. 

 

A montage of Sachal Jazz's great performances to date! Limbo Jazz, Take 5, Blues Walk, Imagine, Besame Mucho and more. Coming to London 8th November http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=17131
Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

To possibly describe the 48 hours I experienced following the concert at The Barbican. My command of the English language is nowhere near sophisticated enough to put readers of these words into the remote vicinity of emotion I experienced. Therefore, I'll just have to spit it out. 

Via Twitter I have had direct communication with Sachal without ever seeing the face behind it. They have contacted me before to say thanks for all my social advocacy and they are aware I have been to all their concerts outside of Pakistan. 

During the interval at The Barbican I DM Sachal on Twitter asking if I could meet the musicians. They responded to me the following morning on Tuesday and asked me to call them. So I did. 

Their Press Manager informed me that the concert with Wynton the night before on Monday was their only 'official' concert in London. That Tuesday evening they were doing another concert for the press, media and guests of Mr Majeed behind closed doors at Kings Place in North London. It was going to be around 50 people tops and as a thank you to me they wanted me to attend as their guest............You're right, I was left speechless! 

I began calling everyone I could get hold of or see online just to express my euphoria in this moment. I've never done cocaine but I'm sure its impact could not match my energy levels following this phone call. It really was a dream coming true. 

So that afternoon I make my way down and get their early. In typical Pakistani fashion the concert start time was delayed due to more rehearsal time needed. I met the Press Manager outside the theatre and he said go on through even whilst they were performing. So I did. 

The venue was perfect. A full on stage for the entire ensemble supported by a strings section and a seating area for no more than 50 people. Whilst they were rehearsing one could tell the acoustics and sound was going to be out of the top draw. 

I stood quietly as they were rehearsing. Ustad Ballu Khan during this time came down from the stage for a moment whilst the other sections were fine tuning. I grabbed him and introduced myself and gave him the 30 second version of my love affair with Sachal; where it started and where it had taken me to. He hugged me and immediately forgot what he was about to do and grabbed my hand and walked back towards the stage. Even though all other members of Sachal were rehearsing he interrupts them and ask them all to come down off the stage which they do and introduces me to them all. They hear the 30 second version of my affair and likewise all hug and embrace me. In that moment I was officially crowned as the Number 1 fanatical fan of Sachal!

They then took a break and went outside for some air. I didn't just follow I surgically attached myself to them. We sat outside and they enquired about my devotion and I explained that it all started when I was 15....(as per my first entry on this blog). The warmth and open hearts they immediately reciprocated with was truly overwhelming. I expected them to appreciate and acknowledge of course; anything less would have been rude, but this was off the charts. Exchanging phone numbers with me and requesting that I stay by their side until they perform and when they do take the front row seat

Having a 'Take 5' moment with The Sachal Jazz Ensemble.

The performance I then witnessed was truly my musical everest moment in life irrespective of the fact it was Sachal. I defy any 'music lover' to not be moved emotionally and wowed by this performance. 

Amongst others there were several Radio DJ's and producers etc in the room. Regardless of whether they were sceptical prior to the performance commencing or even similar to me, pro the concept and music....it didn't matter. By the end of the night it was a monumental 'home run'. 

As I was parked in the front row, with their permission I was allowed to film the concert. You can appreciate my excitement hence the videos maybe a little shaky. There are other videos on YouTube of this performance but the sound is not as good as my films. Take a deep breath and enjoy this musical sensation! 

The most amazing version of 'Imagine' you'll ever hear.... And all the way from Lahore, Pakistan! I bet you never saw this coming!

What amazing musical talents and imagination to have come up with this version of Imagine. Wow!

During the days of the Mughals, Lahore had 12 gates surrounding it. One of them was called Tuxalee Gate and it was there all the classical 'families' of musicians and singers would congregate.

Tuxalee Gate was put together by Mr Majeed himself and is truly 'classical'. 

Now who in their right mind would have the vision to imagine a Jazz version of The Pink Panther theme?

Pink Panther and Jazz... Obvious connection right!

An indescribable tribute to Take 5!

Dave Brubecks will always be the 'original' but this surely has to be the best cover ever!

Continually left speechless....Stevie Wonder's 'You got it bad girl'.

Duke Ellingtons 'Limbo Jazz' without Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Centre Orchestra.....They totally made it their own in this version. 

I didn't catch the name of the piece below. However I call it the 'Sitar' piece as the emphasis is on Nafees Khan and his beautiful display of the Sitar. 

Below is the same old Pakistani track they performed live on The BBC a couple of days prior. 

Now we get to the climax of the evening. It wasn't the last piece they performed but its the one more so than others that I have listened to relentlessly since. 

Its called 'Shalimar' after the gardens with the same name in Lahore. Its a majestic place that graced Lahore during the time of the Mughals. In his introduction of it, Mr Majeed made a connection with Greek Goddesses. I don't precisely recall the conceptual connection but the sound is authentically of the Levant! This blew me away and I feel so immensely blessed and honoured that I saw it first hand. If one of the earlier pieces was very 'Sitar' focussed, well this is all about Baqir Abbass and the magic he breathes via his flutes. A true masterpiece!

Kindly heed my advice with Shalimar. The first time you listen to it, make sure you do so on the loudest speakers possible. Let its magic enter your soul and you will go on an amazing 8 minute journey!

The musical expression of the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, by way of Greek Goddesses... Work that one out! Sachal certainly did.

If there is one piece of music that I can take to a dessert Island, it is officially this one; 'Shalimar'. 

The following day the whole Ensemble were hanging out at their Hotel prior to flying back on Thursday. I went down and hung out with them. They were so happy and appreciative to see me and kept thanking me for my effort...although there was none!

We ate, talked and discussed their music and the sentiment its generating around the world. Perhaps up until then they had not sat with someone that could cross both worlds and translate it. I relayed to them what the NY Times had written, The Guardian and many others. I asked if they understood this comparison of The Buena Vista Club and they didn't. I then went online to show them the scale of this comparison. If in some way I could help increase their understanding of what they are achieving then I'm happy. The day after when they left I really missed them all as I'd had 3 days of The Sachal Ensemble back to back.

Now, its off to India in November where they have 5 dates almost confirmed. Prior to meeting them I had made a pact with myself that wherever they perform I will turn up. I have to support them as much as I can given they are in many respects the musical expression of me. British Pakistani with a strong sense of identity and patriotism on both sides, yet feeling neither are in conflict. The West and East reside peacefully within me and it is these very notes that Sachal are expressing. 

Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

In November 2013 it was announced that Sachal, along with Wynton and his orchestra will be repeating their New York collaboration in London; June 30th 2014 @ The Barbican. Via my social following of Sachal I was alerted to this the moment it was announced and 2 guesses for what I did next?......Correct, purchased 3 front row seats for me, my better half and my mother. 

Expectations were off the chart for Round 3. Having seen their debut, been to NY and followed their music at large, I was expecting something profound and was not disappointed. Clearly they were understanding each other better now and the interplays were sublime. 

The playlist was identical to NY, however more so than their, this time when they performed John Coltrane's 'My Favourite Things' it personally made more of an impact. 

Wynton was as ever, graceful and insightful in his introductions. Both to the pieces and of how they were formed with Sachal. Take away moment however was the 'Flute Off'. On this occasion however, both Ted and Baqir, stood up and came to the front of the stage to delight the crowd. Click on the image below to see a clip. 

Two of the best flutists in the world going 'Toe to Toe'! Unheralded scenes. 

Two of the best flutists in the world going 'Toe to Toe'! Unheralded scenes. 

In New York the resident Sitar player of Sachal, Nafees Khan did not perform. Taking nothing away from Indrajit Row Chowdry who is very good and performed in NY.....in comparison however Nafees Khans presence makes all the difference. Hearing him live was pure ecstasy. 

The Barbican concert got huge media coverage and Sachal worked the media circuit well in the run up to it. Below are links to various reviews of the concert and links to videos/audio clippings of their interviews.

Written -

The Guardian 1st July           LondonJazz 1st July          The Telegraph 1st July

Proof that GREAT music is not preserve of the elite - UK Asia Online

Sabah Raza reviews 1st July concert on Notes @facebook

Radio -

Interview on BBC Asian Network with Izzat Majeed and Sachal Musicians - 30th June: 

Interview on BBC Urdu with Izzat Majeed - 30th June: 

BBC Impact programme - 30th June 2014 Sachal Jazz Ensemble 'Lahore Jazz' (Live): 

I don't recall the name of the piece performed on The BBC. However I'm sure its an old Pakistani piece. If anyone does know the original name please let me know. In any case, what a superb and knock out piece delivered on The BBC!

The Sachal Jazz Ensemble perform live on BBC World News. Their previous attempt to perform in London ended up in cancellation last year, after two key members of the band were denied visas. This time they're all ready to go. Pakistan's musical sensation - the Sachal Jazz Ensemble - will finally play a concert in London tonight, with Wynton Marsalis.

Images - 

My mother hugged and thanked me for taking her to this evening. She'd never witnessed anything like that and ran out of superlatives to describe her emotion. What else could I ask for than for my mothers good will and prayers! Thank you Sachal and Wynton. 

I went to sleep this night mesmerised but little did I know the next 48 hours were going to be amongst the most enthralling of my life thus far......

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorHassan Khan


February 2014 saw the second annual instalment of The Lahore Literary Festival. Building on its success the previous year, 2014 saw a more international feel to the festival with writers and panelists coming in from overseas.

It was during this festival that captures a very appropriate crowd for Sachals innovation that Mr Majeed chose to put on a performance at The Al Hamra arts complex. Perhaps in many ways a 'confirmation' of the success they have had on the road by doing it at home on a grand scale. Perhaps without their international acclaim in London, New York and by many great artists like Dave Brubeck, they may not have been appreciated in the same way in Lahore. If they were to debut there, I doubt many would have turned up. But to get the recognition overseas first certainly makes them endearing towards a domestic crowd. 

The reviews and compliments following this concert were phenomenal. Lahore was seeing its own musicians, performing with 'their own' instruments, yet delivering a sound totally new. Some of the reviews are below;

http://tribune.com.pk/story/675569/all-that-jazz-2/

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/15/301458738/in-pakistan-literary-spring-is-both-renaissance-and-resistance

Via Sachals FB page I have seen several videos of this performance and you can gauge just how much the musicians were putting into this given it was their 'home' crowd watching. For such prominent concerts I can see how Sachal always deliver a 'stand out' moment. A track that no one saw coming. In London they performed The Pink Panther. In New York for me it was Noor Jehan. In Lahore, it was 'Stand By Me'. Despite them repeatedly displaying such imagination and creativity, again, who would have seen this coming? 

Sachal - (http://www.sachal-music.com) is a Lahore-based orchestra that plays fusion of jazz and eastern music on their 30-man orchestra. This is them performing Ben E. King's, "Stand By Me" at Lahore Literary Festival 2014

Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

In the summer of 2013 it was announced that Sachal were going to be performing alongside Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra in the big apple! From the old city of Lahore, via Take 5 to London they were now going onto the big stage, and it does not get bigger than NYC! Following their debut concert in London I made this prediction that it would happen. I never imagined it happening quite like this though. 

Once it was announced, for me it was a no brainer. I was going to board a plane and cross the pond to see this. I was also determined to get the best seats and so there I was online the very second tickets became available and I must have made the very first purchase. 

Prior to this moment in life I had only ever seen one of my friends travel the world to see his favourite band, U2, play. He did and although I never mocked him in any way for this, I never quite 'got it'. I have always loved music and more so than food if there was only one item I could take to a dessert Island it would be music. Nevertheless, being obsessed with a particular group/band and travelling to see them was a desire unknown to me. But that all changed with Sachal. I have made a pact with myself that wherever in the world they perform, I will be there. 

So I arrive in NYC beside myself with anticipation and excitement. The build up felt very fatalistic; that I had an unavoidable encounter of epic significance before me. Sachal and Wynton uploading pictures and videos to their facebook page merely adding to the anticipation and anxiety. Some of these are below.

Click on the thumbnail below to see a video of the two groups rehearsing Take 5.

Not the best quality, but below is Take 5 live at The Lincoln Centre. Although the Sitar player is not Nafees Khan, nevertheless his opening strings sent a shiver through my spine watching it live. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center: Indrajit Roy-Chowdhury performing with Wynton Marsalis, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Sachal Jazz band.

The notes, compilations, exchanges....all put together it was simply revolutionary! Ted Nash, the flute player from the Orchestra and Baqir Abbas went toe to toe with the flutes. This happened on Limbo Jazz and for me is the memory of the evening that goes to my grave. All remaining instruments on both sides were almost silent and you could see all remaining musicians becoming part of the audience even though they were on stage. They were just as mesmerised by this 'flute off' as anyone else. Sherman Irby from the Orchestra sits next to Ted and simply had this massive smile on his face during this exchange. 

In total there were 10 pieces; 5 from Pakistan and 5 Western. The conductor Nijat Ali did an amazing job. To the naked eye it may appear that Nijat is merely having his own fun on stage enjoying the music as the pieces flow naturally and seamlessly. What the naked eye doesn't know however is that he has a major role in writing the compositions and expressing 'Jazz' in this way. The musicians of Sachal are classically trained and by and large never heard of Jazz prior to Mr Majeeds arrival and introduction of it. Therefore to evolve the skill sets of these musicians and translate Jazz into this format is no mean feat. 

Wynton Marsalis himself said that merging these styles is an incredible achievement technically. He said his guys get up to beats of 8/10 maximum and Sachal can get up to 70/80. Only someone who knows music first and foremost through and through can bridge these styles into a sound that is seamless and natural and Nijat along with Mr Majeed, Mushtaq Sufi, Wynton and many others has played a major role in achieving this. 

The 10 tracks played are below. 

As said earlier the 'Flute off' in Limbo Jazz goes to my grave. The second 'moment' was one of the transitions during Take 5 from Wynton's orchestra over to Baqir Abbass on the flute. It was one of those transitions that just epitomised the unbelievable skill and expertise that was on display. 

Blues Walk and Sherman Irby was just bliss. I could have gone on listening to him play the Sax like that indefinitely. 

New Orleans Blues was truly amazing as its a genuine, full on New Orleans track. If you never knew the title but heard the track you'd immediately say 'this can only be from New Orleans'. Wynton kicks off this track with a full on trumpet. Ustad Ballu Khan on the tabla and Najaf Ali on the Dhol seamlessly add to this into and the track lends itself perfectly to the sound of the table and dhol from the 'Punjab'. 

I'm sitting there in the front row of the Rose Theatre watching this revolutionary display of merging music cultures and I'm thinking of my father who sadly passed away in 2011. He loved music as much as anyone and I couldn't help thinking how much he would have enjoyed to see where these musicians from Lahore had ended up and the accolades they are receiving. At this moment there was no script in the world that could have prepared me for what was coming!

Noor Jehan is that voice of Pakistan that reflects the 'golden era' of Pakistan. Her music flourished in every household, city, and village throughout Pakistan during the 50's, 60's 70's and 80's and even today. I didn't come to know of her and love her music of my own accord. I did so because my parents both appreciated her and listened to her music. My sounds of 'childhood' equate to the music of Noor Jehan, Lata, Rafi, and Nusrat. As these sounds take me to a place of comfort I have extensive collections on all of them. One of my late fathers favourite tracks was Noor Jehans 'Sanno Nehr Waly Pul Tey Bula Key'. So when they started playing it out of nowhere (as I had not seen the playlist prior) can you imagine the state I was in? Utterly blown away and I looked up getting comfort from the fact my father was also enjoying this night. 

This collaboration represents so much that goes beyond 'music'. Both groups are respective ambassadors of their professions, nations and culture. If man spent more time like these musicians trying to bridge gaps in understanding of respective cultures and extend themselves to one another what an amazing world this could be. For some reason as nations we choose to isolate ourselves from one another when we have disagreements. Since when has 'not talking' ever been a solution? 

Wynton and Sachal could have taken the same stance. In The USA the media is so controlled and manipulated there is nothing positive ever reported on 'Pakistan'. Could this collaboration not have backfired for Wynton? Likewise for Sachal. In Pakistan US drones are causing havoc in certain regions where 'collateral damage', aka 'the murder of innocent civilians' is totally accepted only to fuel nationwide anger and hatred of US forces. But they didn't. Maybe such things were never even a consideration as we're talking about 'pure' musicians here. 

What these two groups are doing, goes beyond music and enters the realms of humanity. I thank you for having the wisdom to see it, the courage to act on it, and the will to see it through. 

Click on the image below for The New York Times Review of this concert. 


Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

So I have been informed, after hearing Sachal Jazz's version of Take 5, a Mr Wynton Marsalis got in touch. Getting a call from him and asking to do a collaboration....well the English language does not have the words to describe what an accolade this is. 

For those that don't know much about The Wynton Marsalis Quintet or what the Lincoln Centre in NYC represents, let me elaborate. Truly this man and his quintet represent the modern day 'Guardians' of the great US Jazz tradition. I'm no Historian and correct me if I am wrong but the 'great jazz scene' of The USA between the 1920's and perhaps late 60's was somewhat super-ceded by the Jazz Funk scene of the 70's and other genres that were emerging. Wynton, with his trumpet endeavoured to not only protect the 'great jazz era' but also revive it. Wynton represents much more than a musician. He's the worlds leading authority on the history of Jazz. He has been commissioned by CBS and other major networks in The US to e.g do short films on the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's. He has delivered lectures at Harvard University and much much more. Never has the following phrase been used more appropriately....."What Wynton doesn't know about Jazz....it ain't worth knowing!"

So in July of 2103 Wynton and his quintet meet up with The Sachal Jazz Ensemble in Marciac France. I read/heard somewhere that they only got one day to fully rehearse together. Below are three of the videos from this concert and if this is the result after one day, imagine what these two great orchestra's will create and achieve once they really get to know each other? 

August 3, 2013. Marciac (France) The Wynton Marsalis Quintet Wynton Marsalis (trumpet); Walter Blanding (sax); Dan Nimmer (piano); Carlos Henriquez (bass); Ali Jackson (drums) The Sachal Jazz Ensemble Nijat Ali (director), Baqar Abbas (flute), Nafees Ahmad (sitar), Ljaz Hussain (tabla), Rafiq Ahmed (naal) and Najaf Ali (dholak, mardang).

The pictures below are all from Round 1 of this collaboration between Sachal and Wynton in France, 2013.

What I love about Blues Walk, Limbo Jazz and all their covers for that matter is how authentically close to the original they all are, yet have been given a unique identity. 

Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

By early 2012 it was announced that Sachal Jazz were going to have their debut global concert, and where else other than London. It came as no surprise given the great media work their version of Take 5 was doing for them and the accolades that were pouring in; including Dave Brubeck himself prior to his death. 

Their concert at The Queen Elizabeth Hall took London by storm. I'm no musical expert or historian but when would London have heard such a sound prior to this? Yes the Indian Sitar players have mixed it with Flamenco and various other collaborations. But this was an entire classically trained ensemble from Pakistan! That land that based on the media coverage has nothing to offer other than suicide bombings, forced marriages and extremism. From 'that place' these musicians turned up and are playing 'our' music of the West and making it entirely their own. The video below will give you a flavour of that night. 

So many emotions went through me during this concert. At the end of it I had to meet Mr Majeed! It was an emotional necessity to shake his hand and tell him what I was feeling. He was besieged by the admiring crowd and so I waited in turn. 

When I got my chance the words just poured out. I said something along the lines of I've been fortunate to have seen Nusrat Fateh Ali in concert in London, Rahat Fateh Ali, Abida Parveen and others. The best of the classically trained Pakistani musicians and they were all wonderful. The difference in seeing Sachal perform was that it made be feel proud of being half Pakistani as well. Patriotism or sense of identity was not an emotion in any way invoked when seeing the other great artists. Perhaps that has something to do with the full circle I talk about in the About Me section.

Following this concert I made a prediction that Sachal won't be truly global until they perform in the big apple, New York City. Little was I to know my prediction would materialise and that my relationship with Sachal would go to a whole new level!

Posted
AuthorHassan Khan

So this is where it all began for me. The very moment I heard Take 5 I was all in. 

My love affair with Jazz started with the original that opened the doors to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and many more. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I came across this. The same music I was a fan of being played by long forgotten musicians from my ancestral home town of Lahore! 

This was and continues to be the effort of Mr Izzat Majeed. A British Pakistani businessman that has unbeknown to many spent many a pound of his own money on restoring, promoting, and protecting many traits of Pakistani culture and heritage. The Sachal Jazz Ensemble epitomises all his efforts. 

In 2011 the first album was launched with the signature track above; https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/sachal-jazz-interpretations/id592554711. Reviews were outstanding as the sound was unheard of! Dave Brubeck himself said;

""Listening to this exotic version of "Take 5" brings back wonderful memories of Pakistan where my quartet played in 1958. East is East, and West is West, but through music the twain meet. Congratulations!" Dave Brubeck, Aug. 25, 2011

"This is the most interesting and different version of Take 5 that I've ever heard"  Dave Brubeck.

Hear are just a handful of the amazing reviews the first album got;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/take-five-cover-pakistani-musicians-play-dave-brubeck-classic_n_3085269.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/05/pakistan-musicians-top-western-charts-jazz

http://www.rainloresworldofmusic.net/Reviews/Revws_S-Z/SachalStudiosOrchLahore-SachalJazz.html

The roar surrounding this album was so immense, that at a time of utter despair and desperation in Pakistan, Mr Majeed and his Ensemble managed to reach musical heights that equated to Everest shortly after launching. No1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart! 


Posted
AuthorHassan Khan