Sachal Vasandani: Eyes Wide Open

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.