Supreme Collection? Have to take their word for it, but the fact this disc by a leading Pakistani singer of ghazals -- the Indian subcontinent pop music form that Najma made known to international audiences -- received a U.K. release is a good sign of Shaukat Ali's standing. The music here goes down a lot easier than qawwali and Ali, the son of a famous singer, isn't aiming for the same vocal virtuosity or devotional intensity as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or the Sabri Brothers. It's a gentler, more accessible sound, with harmonium joined by strummed acoustic guitar, violin solos and percussion underpinning on the opening "Challa." The songs are long but the flowing melodies don't wear out their welcome and Ali is a versatile, emotive singer fond of letting his phrases trail off in an anguished sigh. "Kadi Tey Has Bol" and "Das We Wakila" are gentle ballads, while "Teri Lal Parandi" ups the tempo ante, with flute and violin working over rocking dhol percussion that nods towards bhangra. On the live "Raba Soniyan Noo," Ali's voice plays trail-the-harmonium-lead, while "Main Tarke Ghare Da" is insistent at first with a prominent horn (or synth?) but turns into a near-lullaby, very soft and soothing with restrained vocals. "Kagaz Di Beri" finds the guitar and percussion in insistent synch, while what sounds like a vibraphone, or marimba and harp, swirls around, too -- the way the various instrumental textures keep unfolding is impressive. The cry or tear in Ali's voice gives a nice bluesy melancholy to "Kyon Rukha Rukha Bolna," and "Mawan Thankyan Chawan" features a violin answering the voice which echoes of the harmonium behind it; all while the guitar locks down in a rhythm groove with the percussion. Supreme Collection/Challa is excellent simply because you never get tired of this music. It may not be a style or feature elements you normally like, but the music commands your attention, and Ali and his musicians sound totally self-assured. Great music to hear in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant and for once, that's not an insult. It's a measure of how well the music would fit the milieu, which makes it terrific ambient music in that sense.
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