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Seen and Heard Promenade Concert Review

Prom 37, Nitin Sawhney & Friends : London Undersound Symphony Orchestra /Stephen Hussey. Royal Albert Hall, London 10.8.2007 9 PM. (CC)


Nine oclock seems a strange time to start a full-length concert. Friday or no Friday, people had to meet last trains or buses, but nevertheless it looked strange to see members of the audience leaving a concert that was of a consistently high standard, and what's more was absolutely compelling from first to last.

Nitin Sawhney now has a major reputation. His seven hugely successful albums provided much material for the concert (his eighth, London Undersound, is his current work in progress). He is also the composer of nearly forty film scores and has recently composed the music for a computer game, Heavenly Sword (some of which was featured towards the end of the concert). I first heard his music several years ago and was struck by his questing imagination. It stuck out like a beacon in a world of popular music that seems to have lost its way and it  seems that Sawhney
s creative light remains undimmed. Sawhney abhors the term “fusion” used in relation to his music, and it is easy to see why – this music transcends the sum of its musicocultural references to enter into its own sphere. Yet the term “fusion” is so often used by commentators. The use of ethnic musics – particularly contemporary Indian and flamenco guitar – within the overarching context of Sawhney’s persona gives his music not only a wide range of reference but also a sort of compositional virtuosity found in few, if any, places elsewhere.

The programme order was carefully planned, so that his was able to use a song (
“Journey”) to fulfil a specific structural function within the running order (as a transition between reflective ballads and drum & bass motifs). The concert actually began with “Sunset”, the song that opens the album Prophesy. Strangely apt for the starting hour, the sustained string background and easy beat acted as a cushion for the vocals of two fine vocalists, Hazel Fernandes and Lucita Jules. The RAH’s lights shifted in colour,  in response to the music (and not inappropriately, either).

The standard of Sawnhey’s collaborators was staggering. The single-named Fink, of the British label Ninja Tune, was vocalist on “Everyone Loves the Sunshine”, with its easy-listening opening and amazing muted trumpet solo, while the oh-so-seductively voiced Tina Grace delivered “Letting go” with jaw-dropping ease. Her voice is focussed like a laser-beam yet has a most appealing quality. (Grace’s album, 2+2=April, is, incidentally, available on iTunes). The Essex-born Imogen Heap brought a Girl-from-Ipanema voice to “Bringing it Home” (the use of rhythmic breathing heightened the slightly fuzzy effect).

Sawhney’s guest soloists were not exclusively vocal. The excellent flautist Ashwin Srinivasan on “Hope” spun a seductive line (it was only when someone coughed that one realised how quiet the capacity audience had been throughout!) The lonely drone of “Immigrant”, a concept close to Sawhney’s heart embodied in a song explicitly dedicated to the composer’s parents, brought home some of the humanist questions that run throughout his work.

The flamenco influence was first encountered in the beautiful and evocative Noces en Espana”, and was later to surface in a sequence of songs (“Herencia latina”, “Moonrise”, “Homelands” and “Noches en vela”). Sawhney wites this music as fluently as any other he feels an affinity to (and how the wonderful singers Natacha Atlas and Tina Grace realised his intentions!). Indian music, vocally at least, became the province of the amazing British-born Indian singer Reena Bhardwaj (she appears on the albums Human and Philtre; she has also sung as playback singer on the sountracks of several of A. R. Rahman films as well as the soundtrack to the show Bombay Dreams). Successful Indian playback singers tend to attain superstardom in their own rights, and that surely must be the case for Bhardwaj, whose long vocal lines in “Sandesa” were simply delicious.

Anoushka Shankar featured in a highly successful Prom with her father, Ravi, two years ago. She is an astonishing sitarist, and received a deservedly enthusiastic ovation for “Charukeshi Rain” (working title, a piece co-composed by Sawhney and Anoushka Shankar). The “Charukeshi” part of the title refers to the raga on which it is based. This very new piece was delivered with superb assurance (only the amplification seemed a little overbearing). An additive piece, beginning slowly and building surely to its climax, it was possibly the highlight of an amazing evening.


Colin Clarke

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, one of the longest established live music review web sites on the Internet, publishes original reviews of recitals, concerts and opera performances from the UK and internationally. We update often, and sometimes daily, to bring you fast reviews, each of which offers a breadth of knowledge and attention to performance detail that is sometimes difficult for readers to find elsewhere.

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