Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Sachal Jazz Ensemble, Barbican, London – 30 June 2014

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In what is Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s (JALCO) third residency at the Barbican since 2010, this year’s packed opening night with Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble was met with both an air of anticipation and curiosity. The cross-cultural Indo-jazz nature of the evening was presented from the off with ensemble trading between the two traditions. As the collective sound grew in cohesion such musical integration provided somewhat of a reassuring social statement and set a positive momentum that the event built on.

Although this was an East and West collaboration, it was often members of the Sachal ensemble that received the overwhelming affection of the audience. Highlights included a particularly original interpretation of the widely covered ‘Take Five’. Dave Brubeck himself previously described the Sachal’s recorded version of the much loved standard as “the most interesting” he’d ever heard. ‘My Favourite Things’ was another piece that upon announcement sparked an atmosphere of expectation, to which JALCO’s Walter Blanding responded with a soaring and Coltrane-honouring soprano solo. A trading flute feature between Ted Nash and Sachal’s Baqar Abbas, backed by both ensembles, fuelled the most raucous audience applause as virtuosity and jovial conversation was beautifully balanced and impeccably displayed.

From this it became apparent how, despite both soloists using often-similar musical elements and techniques such as their rhythmic language and tongued effects, our ears seem to associate certain timbres with particular traditions and consequently evoke different feelings. Such interesting realisations occurred throughout the evening, encouraging cultural considerations beyond musical parameters and once again highlighting the unifying nature of music.

Wynton took few solos across the evening, usually on second line numbers showcasing his trademark buoyancy and historical awareness. He remained content to take a more ensemble role and ensure attention focused upon the essence of the evening: the intriguing collaboration between Western and Eastern large ensembles - a largely unexplored avenue of Indo-jazz alliances.

– Tom Wright

For more info on the Barbican’s contemporary music go to www.barbican.org.uk