The Sachal Jazz Ensemble’s members all came from the once-great “Lollywood” movie system in Lahore, Pakistan.
The camera opens on a pair of bongos, a man in red setting a double-time pace.
Then it cuts to a full orchestra, string players all in white, laying down a familiar, undulating accompaniment.
And finally, the melody comes in — on a sitar.
The piece is “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and nothing prepares you for how the Sachal Jazz Ensemble — a group of Pakistani master musicians who will make their first U.S. appearance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Friday and Saturday — approaches it in a now-viral video.
You’re not alone. Nothing prepared JALC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, either.
“First of all, just the level they are on as musicians is astounding,” Marsalis tells The News. “Unbelievably high levels. And it’s very much neighborhood ,” he adds of the music’s grass-roots feel.
The musicians all came from the once-great “Lollywood” movie system centered around the city of Lahore, which served as the closest thing the country had to a music conservatory.
The Sachal Jazz Ensemble will perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Nov. 22 and 23.
But the effects of Pakistan’s own version of China’s Cultural Revolution at the hands of dictatorial President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the late 1970s and 1980s sent everything into a spiral.
By the time London-based businessman Izzat Majeed, who grew up in a music business household in Pakistan, found them scattered around Lahore around 2002, they were running tea stalls or selling vegetables from bicycles.
“This man killed all music,” Majeed said of the president. “Their livelihoods were based on musicals and filmmaking. I had to cajole them out of the jobs they were doing, and they really didn’t believe this was something that was going to happen.”
Majeed built Sachal Studios in Lahore, largely to convince the musicians that he was serious. He even had technicians from the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London help with the details. Gradually, he began to build trust, and the music bloomed anew.
“Take Five” was a natural choice as a video demonstration, Majeed said, because of the impact Brubeck had as a “Jazz Ambassador” in Pakistan in the 1950s.
“I was 8 years old when Brubeck passed by,” Majeed says. “It became so popular among our people, a big hit on the streets of Lahore. They were playing it live in kiosks, on vinyl. And nobody knew it was jazz; people just liked the melody.”
The ensemble’s verve definitely touched Marsalis. He and his quintet played a set with them in France at the late-summer Jazz in Marciac festival, to raves.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, says of the Sachal Jazz Ensemble: “The level they are on as musicians is astounding. Unbelievably high levels.”
They quickly found common ground in their styles, with Marsalis loving the Pakistani material they’ll be playing next weekend enough to be moved to scat-sing one of the melodies right through the phone during his interview with the Daily News.
“They can really play, so if you can find a common rhythm, you can just play,” Marsalis says. “It’s like, when you can speak a language, it’s easy to speak other languages. You can be an American person, and Cuban music can be your mother tongue.
“We’re coming from the perspective of the similarities of our music. Not as a political statement, as a cultural statement. That’s how we do all the collaborations we do. We make cultural statements.”
For Majeed and the Sachal players, it’s also a statement of urgent need.
“They’ve stopped teaching the children,” Majeed said. “If nothing is done in the next four or five years, you can forget about music in Pakistan.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Music From Pakistan: Sachal Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway and 60th St.; 8 p.m. Nov. 22 and 23. Tickets start at $ 30. Purchase online at ticketing.jalc.org or call (212) 258-9800.