Review Summary: Jazz fusion with Eastern pizzazz
How does the mixture of curry and a beef steak sound? Or chicken vindaloo with scones? Not too tempting I’m guessing, however this fusion between the cultural inclinations of the East and West from a musical perspective can produce some rather delicious results, as shown by the music of the Mekaal Hasan Band
Mekaal Hasan is one of Pakistan’s most revered musical figures, not only composing music for his own band and his solo work, but also producing the albums of quite a few mainstream artists. He has collaborated with legendary artists including Billy Cobham and Pete Lockett (who features on the closing track of this album) on his solo album as well as his band’s music. He is quite a busy man though unfortunately since the Pakistan music industry isn’t very receptive to music that lies pretty far from the periphery of mainstream pop and rock, artists like Mekaal Hasan, who’re inclined to compose music which is thought provoking and intends to push boundaries, don’t have the comfort of releasing their own albums regularly, and thus he has only managed to release 2 albums since the Mekaal Hasan Band’s
inception in 2001.
Musically the band blends the cultural flair of Eastern classical, as is evident from the vocals and flute with both almost completely lying in this domain, with the compositional sensibilities of jazz fusion and hard rock from the Western hemisphere. Subtle nuances of other styles are also sprinkled throughout the record adding that extra dimension to the music. This concoction is birthed thanks to the diverse influences of the members with Mekaal Hasan having been brought up listening to old jazz records and other members of the band being veterans in the Pakistani classical music scene.
is much more positive in its overall mood as compared to the band’s debut Sampooran
and while I certainly don’t mind that, I was hoping for the band to push further with the dark and experimental elements of that album, as they have on the haunting “Albaella”, and also include some guest musicians on the harmonium, tablas and sitar to name a few instruments. On the plus side the band has expanded on some of the funky elements from the previous album to great effect as is evident on “Sanwal” and “Bhagheshwari” with some absolutely great guitar playing and bass lines. There is some experimentation with effects and tones as well when it comes to the guitar and flute, with the piercing high pitched wail of the flute being very innovative and refreshing.
Familiar facets of the music that have returned include the brilliant, purely classical based, vocals of Javed Bashir, with his vocal melodies and infectious vibrato complementing the music in a sublime manner. The musicianship is still terrific, and if not better than before, with the solid rhythm section bringing the groove and laying the perfect foundation for the guitars and flutes which still adeptly play the tasty leads and unisons. I had hoped for the flute to be used more during the rhythm sections as it is used in “Andholan” and “Mahi”, as opposed to being used mainly for the solo sections.
Production and mix wise the album is a definite improvement over its predecessor with a very good balance being achieved between all the instruments without any instrument stepping on the toes of another. The album could have been mixed and mastered at a slightly higher volume to increase the impact of the music, but that’s a minor complaint as all the instruments sound so good you tend to get lost in the rich textures. Another minor gripe is that some of the melodies are repeated a tad too often in certain songs, and that can take away from the novelty of the tunes, some more progressions would have been very much welcomed.
There are pros and cons for almost every album but if the pros outweigh the cons by some margin then you can almost overlook the weaknesses and relish the encouraging aspects of the music as those are what you remember when all is said and done. The band’s follow up is expected to be released this year, with Mekaal Hasan hinting at a more aggressive direction. That sounds good to me, I hope the band treads further through unknown and challenging territories to push the envelope, as long as I get my thirst for quality fusion music quenched regularly I'll be a happy man.
2. Huns Dun
3. Waris Shah