Surinder Sandhu: Saurang Orchestra (2003)
Surinder Sandhu’s Saurang Orchestra is one of the most refreshing and exciting recordings this reviewer has heard in years. Sandhu excels on the sarangi, an ancient Northern Indian instrument that has very few practitioners due to its extremely difficult facilities. In fact, in India there are only three Masters left teaching its tradition. Sandhu has decided to dedicate himself to this instrumentand to do so, Sandu, who is Indian but was raised in the UK, has to frequently travel to India.
Sandhu’s devotion to the sarangi is matched only by the intensity of the music from this brilliant album. Saurang Orchestra is a stunning collage of Indian influenced jazz and symphonic power. It was written, arranged and orchestrated by Sandhu. (Roland Chadwick also aids in inspiration and on one of the compositions. He also adds his acoustic guitar to two of the pieces).
Sandhu wrote the music especially for favorite soloists. These soloists, plus 7 others, include the fine acoustic guitar players Fred Wisdom and Haldin Wright and guitar legend Steve Vai. Steve Vai? Yes, playing some beautiful Far Eastern acoustic and flaming electric guitar. Also featured with great success are saxophone players George Brooks and Andy Sheppard. Chandra Chakraborty is a mesmerizing vocalist and Shabhaz Hussain displays a confident mastery of the tabla. Of special interest is multi-talented drummer Mark Anderson, who earlier this year was featured in the release of the fine Wild Strings Quartet CD as a guitarist!
The Symphonic power comes from the Saurang Orchestra itself, 18 members strong, culled from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The Orchestra is augmented by a combination of Eastern and Western players as well. Sandhu has written uplifting themes, deep in scope, for them to play. The soloists use all of their gifts as they seem truly dedicated to use this forum to honor the groundwork laid by Sandu.
Don’t look now, but perhaps the most exciting music in jazz happening today is coming from the influences of the Eastern world, and India in particular. India seems to be embracing this music, a jazz-Indian hybrid, as evidenced by the many recent successful tours of that country featuring Indo and Western performers. Remember Shakti is probably the preeminent band, but others who have made the trip to India include Billy Cobham and Jean Luc Ponty, to perform with the great Indian violinist L. Subramaniam. Swedish Bassist Jonas Hellborg has been touring the country and George Brooks, who appears on this very album, has had great success there as well. This movement is a very exciting and important one.
Despite the truly serious and thematic nature of this groundbreaking work, The Saurang Orchestra is an album you will get a kick out of listening to because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is full of wonderful jazz, ingratiating multi-cultural hooks and dramatic orchestral interludes and crescendos. It fits all of the pieces together in a puzzle that is a joy to assemble. This album puts Sandhu in the forefront of one of the most exciting jazz experiments now underway.
Track Listing: Amirah; Children of the Sand; Such Karma; The Little Hindu; Elephant Strings-Our Beginnings; The Sand Divers; The Glass Palace
Personnel: Soloists- Surinder Sandhu- Sarangi; Shabhaz Hussain- Tabla; S.V. Balakrishna- Mridangam; Rajeeb Chakraborty- Sarode; Chandra Chakroborty- Vocals; Kousic Sen- Tabla; Steve Vai- Acoustic and electric guitars; Roland Chadwick- Acoustic guitar; Fred Wisdom- Acoustic guitar; Haldin Wright- Acoustic guitar; Dudley Phillips- Bass; George Brooks- Soprano saxophone; Andy Sheppard- Tenor and Soprano Saxophone; Mark Anderson- Drums and percussion; With players from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Conducted by Richard Gordon-Smith
Style: Beyond Jazz