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June 2007

Sachal Vasandani
Eyes Wide Open
Mack Avenue Records

It was eight years ago that DownBeat named him Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year and three years ago that he earned semi-finalist status at the Thelonious Monk Institute Competition. In between, Chicago-born Sachal Vasandani (which, to stray off-topic, has to rank alongside Eden Ahbez and Ahmet Ertegun as one of the coolest names in music) briefly abandoned jazz for a stint as a Wall Street investment banker. Fortunately for us, he quickly returned to the fold and has now delivered his debut disc. It’s a cunning collection of a dozen tracks, mostly covers, that serves as a sort of sampler to demonstrate Vasandani’s impressive versatility.

With a voice like polished granite (veined with sparkling hints of the young James Taylor) and an invitingly easygoing demeanor, he’s as comfortable turning up the heat under a swinging “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” as he is paying homage to Shirley Horn with petal-soft readings of “I Could Have Told You” and “You Won’t Forget Me.” His scatting on a robustly upbeat “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” shows tremendous promise, and it’s impossible not to like the joyful lilt of his “September in the Rain.” Crafting a tune about a bitter struggle to grant forgiveness as a breezy samba, as Vasandani does on the self-penned “Send ’Em Up to Heaven,” takes guts, but, with considerable assistance from vibraphonist Stefon Harris, he makes it work. Another Vasandani composition, “Please Mr. Ogilvy,” a presumably semi-autobiographical examination of a neophyte artist’s need for mentorship, is oddly appealing. And the album’s third original, “Storybook Fiction,” ably demonstrates his ability to stylishly shape a traditional love song.

Originally published in June 2007
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