Last year, we brought you an incredible cover of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five” performed by the Pakistan-based group, the Sachal Studios Orchestra (also known as the Sachal Jazz Ensemble). You can find that song, along with two takes on "The Girl From Ipanema," on their 2011 album Sachal Jazz. You won’t find the Sachal Orchestra’s version of "Eleanor Rigby" (above) on that album. This comes to us from Sachal’s 2013 Jazz and All That, a record Guardian critic John Fordham calls “smooth-jazzier” than its predecessor and “more improvisationally inhibited.” I must say, if that’s the case, I’ll take my jazz smooth just this once.
“Eleanor Rigby,” of course, has always been played by an orchestra, and its mixture of modes makes it a particularly good choice for the sitar soloist, who could have sat in comfortably in studio sessions for nearly every song on the Eastern-inflected Revolver. He shares the spotlight with a dynamite tablas player (watch for his solo at 1:27). It’s no wonder the Sachal players have made such an impression with their unique interpretations of standards and classics. Drawn from “virtuosos who cut their teeth in Pakistan’s once-flourishing Lollywood film industry,” their website informs us, “the Sachal Jazz Ensemble brings together some of the most accomplished classical musicians of the subcontinent.” Lollywood, Lahore’s once-thriving film industry, has still barely recovered from the repressive regime of General Zia-ul-Haq.
The musicians of Sachal are refugees of a sort; rescued from poverty, these “veteran session players [had been] retired since the 1980s due to various anti-music zealotries.” During those times, writes Yaqoob Khan Bangash, television drama provided “great succor to a fatigued and demoralized society.” Musicals, however, were very much frowned on by the regime, which banned most Western-influenced productions and shuttered most of the Lahore studios. We should be glad the Sachal Studios Orchestra can now perform and tour. They recently appeared with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in an event, Fordham writes, suggesting that “the most creative phase of Sachal Studios’ heartening story of renewal might just be beginning.”
For more on Sachal Studios, watch the introductory video, “Who We Are…,” above—shot at, where else, the studios at Abbey Road.