Ravish Momin and Trio Tarana: Climbing the Banyan Tree (2005)
Drummer Ravish Momin, for his second date as a leader in five years (the other being Sound Dissolving Sound, on Sachimay) has assembled a trio with a truly diverse range of interests and a value expanding on much of the Afro-Asian influence that has entered the jazz canon. Late of Kalaparush and The Light and the groups of reedman Sabir Mateen, Momin studied tabla and Indian rhythms in addition to jazz drumming, and this fleetness comes through in his approach to the kit, his drumsticks tapping the snare with the lightness of fingertips. Momin is joined in Tarana by violinist Jason Kao Hwang, a veteran of the New York improvising community who has worked extensively with William Parker and gained notoriety in the early '80s with Commitment, and bass-oud doubler Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, a stalwart of John Zorn's ensembles.
Though ostensibly drawn from Indian rhythmic patterns (Momin wrote all but two of the tunes on this disc), the ensemble voicings of the music are divergent from such a particular tradition. The combination of oud and violin bring North African and Turkish elements into the proceedings, with Blumenkranz' tone on oud approaching higher-pitched instruments like the Turkish saz. The thrum of the oud also informs his bass playing, which, when it's not undergoing arco manhandling, employs a compact and lithe presence. Hwang's violin is slippery and acerbic, a quality that imbues much Indian and Chinese string playing. One might even wonder if he plays the instrument between his knees, in traditional gliss-friendly fashion (listen to the opener, "Dai Genyo, for proof). It is rare indeed that, among such improvisational fusions, there is such a seamlessness that appears with Tarana; the late-sixties Indo-Jazz projects of Joe Harriott and John Mayer or Irene Schweizer were rather parallel in their scope.
Yet there have been precedents; bassist/oudist Ahmed Abdul-Malik hit such a stride on his 1960 RCA album East Meets West, and oudist Anouar Brahem and drummer Susie Ibarra have used North African and South Asian forms as bases for their respective ensembles, but Tarana sounds complete. The gorgeous "Peace for Kabul starts with a courtly dance for pizzicato violin and oud before the trio sets into a funky eliding theme, as Hwang creates a conversation for himself, underpinned by the pliant groove of Momin and Blumenkranz. "Gathering Song, like the practice that inspires it, builds from the circular percussion motifs that steadily expand and contract, driving unbridled solos from Hwang and Blumenkranz' oud and returning to a framework that bounces between minimalist intensity and a playful nursery-rhyme quality.
It is fair to say that Tarana is without precedent in the world of improvised music. A true synthesis of North African, South and East Asian motifs with classical organization and the immediacy of free improvisation has probably not existed prior to Climbing the Banyan Tree. One can hope that Momin and his cohorts' ascent is ensured with this recording.
Track Listing: Dai Genyo; Weeping Statue; Instance of Memory; Peace for Kabul; Gyarah; Song at Dusk; String Drum Tarana; Gathering Song; Parting With a View
Personnel: Ravish Momin (d, perc., voc); Jason Kao Hwang (vln); Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (b, oud)