Nitin Sawhney ‘Live at Ronnie Scott’s’ LP/CD (Gearbox) 5/5

Recorded across a three night residency at Ronnie Scott‘s in Soho, London, during March 2016, this live album is full of re-imaginings of old and new favourites, spanning many of Sawhney’s ten studio albums. As with much of the composer’s work, the music expertly combines Eastern and Western influences, melding flamenco, funk, pop, jazz and Indian ragas while branching into blues, tabla breakbeats, beatboxing and so much more. For nearly three decades Sawhney has been successfully crafting seminal studio recordings, scores of film and TV soundtracks, dance and theatre productions and DJ sets. To hear his music performed in the intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scott‘s in a live setting is a thrill. He manages to bring all of his exemplary production values with him, and along with his fellow musicians gives an enigmatic performance that well and truly lives up to expectations.

Performing alongside Sawhney are Aref Durvesh on tabla and vocals, Ashwin Srinivasan on bansuri flute and vocals, Eric Appapoulay on guitar and vocals, Ian Burdge on cello, Eva Stone on vocals and Nicki Wells on vocals. One thing is for sure, the band leader/composer/guitarist has assembled a formidable array of talent here, and they gel together perfectly under Sawhney’s musical leadership.

As is the hallmark of the “Live at Ronnie Scott‘s” series, the supreme quality of Gearbox Records’ mastering and cutting process ensures the intimacy and energy of the live setting is brought back to life. This is truer than ever here, as I found myself actually feeling part of the audience, participating in what must have been a very special gig(s) to attend. Speaking about the album, Nitin Sawhney said, “For any musician growing up in or around London, especially if you’ve grown up loving great improvisation, as I did, Ronnie Scott’s is the most iconic club to play. We’re used to playing large venues in London like the Royal Albert Hall so to then arrive at an intimate club like Ronnie Scott’s with a pared down group of my favourite musicians was sublime.”

Ten tunes grace this brilliant live recording. Every track brings its own listening pleasures, but for me the stand-outs would be the blistering, rousing performance of the flamenco infused “Henrecia Latina”, the classic and seemingly ever-relevant “Dark Day”, the thoughtful, meditative nature of “Tere Khyal” and a beautiful rendition of the exquisite piano-led “Breathing Light”. Regardless of which tracks one may care to pick out, there is a lovely warmth, humour, enjoyment and a genuine love for the music that shines brightly throughout the whole album.

This recording is a living, breathing testimony to the unbeatable nature of a great live performance. Sawhney devotees will not be surprised at the creative brilliance of his compositions as they will have heard most of these tunes before. But there are several things that make this release such a must-have album; the sparkling musicianship, the timelessness of the compositions, the intimacy of the venue, and quite simply, the joy of hearing such genuine, heartfelt, sublime music being performed with warmth, passion and stunning virtuosity. For those not yet familiar with Sawhney’s music, this is as good a place as any to make a wonderful new discovery and begin a new journey. For those who already love his music, you need to add this album to your collection right now.

Mike Gates