Ravish Momin: Climbing the Banyan Tree (2005)
For his second date as a leader in five years, drummer Ravish Momin 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 kithis 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 (featuring Parker and tenor firebrand Will Connell, Jr.); and bass-oud doubler Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, a recent stalwart of John Zorn's ensembles.
Though it's ostensibly composed 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's tone on oud approaching higher-pitched instruments like the Turkish saz. Hwang's violin is slippery and acerbic, a quality that imbues much Indian and Chinese string playingone 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 among such improvisational fusions to see this degree of seamlessness. There have been precedentsbassist/oudist Ahmed Abdul-Malik hit such a stride on East Meets West (RCA, 1960)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. Blumenkranz takes a very free oud solo before the theme returns, ending with a crescendoed coda. "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's 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 improvised music. A true synthesis of North African, South and East Asian motifs with classical organization and the immediacy of free improv has probably not existed prior to Climbing the Banyan Tree.
Track Listing: Dai Genyo; Weeping State; Instance of Memory; Peace for Kabul; Gyarah; Song at Dusk; String Drum Tarana; Gathering Song; Parting With a View
Personnel: Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: Bass, Oud; Ravish Momin: Percussion, Drums, Vocals; Jason Kao Hwang: Violin.