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Surinder Sandhu

The Fictionist


by Ian Mann

October 17, 2008


An ambitious work blending Indian, classical, jazz and world music

“The Fictionist” is an ambitious work by Anglo-Indian composer Surinder Sandhu straddling the boundaries of jazz, Western classical and Indian music. It is is his third album following on from the acclaimed “SauRang Orchestra” (2003) and “Cycles And Stories” (2004).

Partly commissioned for Liverpool’s European City of Culture year the work features the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Clarke Rundell plus numerous musicians drawn from the jazz and world music fields. Conceived as a single entity the work is subdivided into ten sections and is a subtly unfolding work full of many disparate elements. Sandhu pulls his diverse sources together with considerable skill and aplomb, the results rarely sounding forced.

Sandhu plays the North Indian bowed instrument the sarangi, which he studied in India, leaving behind his native Wolverhampton. Sandhu’s Midland roots are reflected in his choice of jazz musicians for his core band, many of whom are active on the Midlands scene i.e. saxophonist Chris “Beebe” Aldridge, drummer Miles Levin, bassist Dave Clark and guitarist Peter Brown. Also from the Birmingham region are guests Dave Lowe(guitar), Levi French(piano) and trumpeter Bryan Corbett.

The opening “Avi’s Theme”, a dedication to Sandhu’s recently deceased nephew, is the album in macrocosm. Indian and Western instruments and rhythms intertwine with interjections from the orchestra for good measure. It is constantly moving and unfolding, a surprise at every turn and a vindication of Sandhu’s pan global approach.

“Inside The Circle” is nearly as fine, a juxtaposition of Indian melodies and funk rhythms to give a contemporary, distinctly urban feel. Aldridge and Corbett make distinguished contributions as does guest trombonist the great Dennis Rollins.

Sandhu likes to use voices in his music as on the song “Until Then”. Paced by Loz Rathbone’s acoustic guitar and voice and embellished by Corbett’s flugel it’s a skilfully arranged if somewhat maudlin item.

The central core of the album is taken up by the Liverpool 08 commission the four movement “Symphony No. 1”. Combining Indian and other ethnic instruments such as Nirmaleya Dey’s bamboo flutes, Tunde Jegede’s kora plus his own sarangi with orchestral and jazz instruments the Symphony is an impressive and wide ranging piece of work. The human voice is also a factor with the gospel tinged Black Voices (Angela Willis, Cecelia Wickham-Anderson and Shereece Starrod) adding to the lengthy third movement subtitled “With New Eyes”. The Sense Of Sound choir appear on the celebratory fourth movement “No Ordinary Moments”, a piece driven by the jazz contingent, particularly the propulsive rhythm section of Levin and Clarke. Like much of the rest of the album the Symphony is constantly unfolding, adding new and interesting elements in an evolving musical kaleidoscope.

“Prelude To You” is a charming vignette for kora, piano and bansuri (bamboo flute) plus Sandhu’s own sarangi. The sarangi also opens the dramatic “The River”, a wide-screen epic that sounds like a Bollywood film soundtrack. Levi French’s beautiful, limpid solo piano is featured in the middle section.

Finally comes the uplifting “To You (A Mothers Love)” to end the album on an elegiac note with a blend of eastern and western instruments.

“The Fictionist” is perhaps too diverse to appeal to a mass audience. Listeners conditioned to a single style of music may feel that Sandhu throws too many ingredients into the stylistic pot. However there can be no doubting the skill with which Sandhu has blended his sources together. Each listening reveals new elements and the orchestration (mainly by Richard Gordon Smith) and arrangements are excellent.

It’s an exotic mix and perhaps a little overpowering if devoured at one sitting. Despite Sandhu’s intention that the album should be listened to as a single entity the tracks are clearly delineated and it’s easy to skip in and out as required.

A hugely ambitious work “The Fictionist” is a success on it’s own terms and not without appeal, but it’s certainly not for everyone.

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