Composer and oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil generates variety and interest by bringing aboard different guest musicians for each album. The personnel on Sultan's Picnic is so similar to that of Blue Camel that one might expect them to sound similar. But there's a key difference in the presence of Howard Levy on Sultan's Picnic. Levy is a talented harmonica player who has done a lot of offbeat work, including a stint with Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. Despite the power of Charlie Mariano on alto sax and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, this album is dominated by the idioms of the harmonica, specifically the jazzy, quirky, lackadaisical idiom popularized by Levy's work with the Flecktones. This domination is noticeable from the beginning, on "Sunrise in Montreal."
In this album, subtitled "Sultans Of Swing", Alex Bollard pays a tribute to one of the favourite guitarists, Mark Knopfler. Each of his sixteen compositions is sparked with the irresistible flavour that is a Knopfler hallmark. Listening to Alex Bollard's catchy versions you will live again the late 1970s and 1980s when Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits were conquering the world.
Call it an aggregation of some of the best contemporary percussionists: Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, and Asian Underground star Talvin Singh combine under the sonic washes of producer Bill Laswell to show the possibilities of Indian percussion. It's definitely a beatfest, but one of subtlety, where what is being said isn't as important as the way it's being stated, and the dialogue between hands includes a lot of silences. Gurtu comes from a more jazz tradition, Hussein a classical background, and Singh represents the brash young things of the dance floor. Mostly Laswell leaves it to them to provide the sonic entertainment, which is as it should be with delicate swathes of sound barely intruding, just coloring the proceedings. While it's not for everyone, those who love Indian percussion in all its forms will find this album a complete joy.