Sachal Vasandani – Hi-Fly – Mack Avenue Records MAC 1060, 41:05 ****:
(Sachal Vasandi – vocals; Jeb Patton – piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer; David Wong – bass; Kendrick Scott – drums; John Ellis – tenor saxophone; Ambrose Akinmusire – trumpet; Jon Hendricks – vocals)
Sachal Vasandi grew up in Chicago, and was fascinated by his parents’ jazz recordings. After enrolling at the University of Michigan, he pursued music and was named 1999 Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of The Year by Downbeat Magazine. After moving to New York, he became a featured singer with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Vasandani performed with Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Reed and T.S. Monk. He was mentored by the likes of Sheila Jordan and Jon Hendricks, and began to arrange and compose. This led to a recording contract, and now he is part of the resurgence in jazz vocalists.
Hi-Fly, his third release on Mack Records, is a bodacious assortment of covers with a few original compositions. With arrangements that evolve into jazzy structures, Vasandani is able to showcase his smooth voice and stylistic touches. “The Very Thought Of You” is liberated from its traditional balladry with a breezy take. An elegant piano duet with pianist Jeb Patton gives new life to the ‘50s Sinatra classic “All The Way”. The singer has a unique phrasing that allows him to explore emotional depth. The backing ensemble is cohesive and versed in cool jazz nuance. “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York” transforms the theatrical Gershwin tune (from Porgy and Bess) into an upbeat jam. Patton delivers a deftly executed solo, and complements the vocal bravado.
“One Mint Julep”, a renowned instrumental by Ray Charles, is reinvented as a vocal duet. With the help of eighty-nine year old Jon Hendricks, Vasandani creates a boisterous hilarious romp that reveals the darker comedic side to this song. The two singers engage in playful scat riffs that manage to cultivate the bluesy motifs. The collaboration resumes on the title cut, with some unison leads and loose harmonies. There is an unusual cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Love Is A Losing Game”. After a fluid bass line (David Wong), a horn chorus adds a touch of late night saloon aesthetic. The horn accompaniment is refreshing on the straight jazz original, “Babes Blues”. Vasandani injects a saucy resonance with his falsetto. The band is at their best here. “Flood” (another original) is inspired by the recent disasters in Asia, Pakistan and Japan. The emotional slow-paced opus gets a lift from a tasteful solo by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Regardless of style, the singer’s voice seems to be a natural fit.
Sachal Vasandani’s Hi-Fly is accessible, and enhances the genre of jazz vocals.
TrackList: The Very Thought Of You; Love Is A Losing Game; I See Your Face Before Me; One Mint Julep; That’s All I Want From You; Babe’s Blues; Flood; Summer No School; Here Comes The Honey Man; There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York; Hi-Fly; All The Way
— Robbie Gerson