Sukhawat Ali Khan featuring Deepak Ram
Laaj (Casa Ganesh Records, 2014)
Steeped in a sultry mysteriousness Laaj, or Divine Grace, is the latest offering by musician and vocalist Sukhawat Ali Khan. With previous recordings such as Shukriya, Shabaz, Zindagi and Taswir, as well as collaborations with the likes of DJ Cheb-I-Sabbah, movie composer James Newton Howard, Dr. Das and the band Baraka Moon and the Yuval Ron Ensemble, Mr. Khan has teamed up with bansuri master Deepak Ram, who is known for recordings like Flute for Thought, Searching for Satyam and Prasad. Backed by a group of first rate musicians, Mr. Khan takes the listener on a journey filled with the splendid delights of Indian and Pakistani music framed in with a razor’s edge of contemporary sensibilities so the music so that the music comes across as dreamily cinematic.
Mr. Khan isn’t merely content to wow fans with his vocals or harmonium playing, opting instead to flex his musical prowess by singing in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Pashto on Laaj in tracks that range from Sufi hymns to Ghazal laments to traditional folk songs of Afghanistan. A master of the five traditions of Indian and Pakistani music: Hindustani Classical, Sufi Qawwali, Punjabi Folk and Bhangra, Geet and Ghazal, Mr. Khan dazzles on Laaj by conjuring up a sound that is simply intoxicating.
Threading tracks with the sinuous lines of Mr. Ram on bansuri, Mr. Khan crafts his sound with the help of Gurdeep Hira on table, dholak, dhol, shiana, vocals and keyboards; Aaron W. Shaul on cello, electric and double bass; Daljeet Singh on guitar and keyboards and Charles Moselle on saxophone to fashion a sound that is lush and full-bodied. Laaj opens with the lovely mystery of “Ghulam-E-Ali,” a traditional Sufi hymn in honor of Hazrat Imam Ali.
With soaring vocals and a meaty, deliciously dark undertone, Laaj give way to delicious indulgences like the guitar edged “Heer,” “Raste Juda Juda” with its plumy bansuri lines and its thread of joyful exuberance and the darkly edgy Hindi track “Chingari” from the motion picture “Amar Prem.” Fans get a dose of Bhangra with “Thand Lagdi” and “Kacha Dudh,” while tracks like “Door” and the Afghani folk tune “Anaar Anaar” shimmer with a luxuriant soulfulness.
Laaj is evocative, potent and enchanting and well worth diving headlong into.
Buy the digital version of Laaj