Cyminology: As Ney (2009)
More than many others, ECM has pursued the kind of stylistic and, in particular, cross-cultural pollination alluded to in the recent documentary series, Icons Among Us. But as much as albums like Savina Yannatou's Songs of Another (ECM, 2008) and Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner's Ojos Negros (ECM, 2007) looked to dissolve the boundaries between geographic and disciplinary concerns, they still tended to lean more strongly in one direction or another. As Ney, the ECM debut of the Cyminology (their third release overall), posits a new kind of chamber jazz, one that reaches deep into the cultural traditions of its members as much as it does ECM's own musical aesthetic and rich discographywith even a hint of the American jazz tradition.
Fronted by German/Iranian singer Cymin Samawatie, who explores her heritage by interspersing her own lyrics with those of Persian masters Rumi and Hafez, it's the most seamless blend of multiple contexts to be heard from the label in recent years. With music written by Samawatie and her band matespianist Benedkit Jahnel, bassist Ralf Schwartz and percussionist Ketan Bhattithere are traces of past ECM groups like Azimuth, especially on "Naagofte," where Jahnel's repetitive, near-minimalist patterns and Samawatie's wordless vocals recall pianist John Taylor and singer Norma Winstone. Still, Azimuth never had this strong a pulse, albeit a subtle one, delivered through Schwartz and Bhattis's textured playing, and when Samawatie reverts to poet Forough Farrokhzad's hauntingly direct lyrics, sung with a distinctly Middle Eastern melody over the group's fervent pedal tone, the group's intercultural personality becomes more discretely visible.
A certain classicism imbues the group's softly nuanced approach to painting a spare landscape, with Samawatie's dark-hued "As Ssafar" a miniature of haunting beauty, while the plaintive "Ashkhaa" closes the album on a more melancholic note. Much like label-mate Susanne Abbuehl's Compass (ECM, 2006), the group's approach eschews open virtuosity, yet its undeniable skill is made clear with every subtlety, every delicate subdivision of harmony and rhythm into rarified layers that come together with the kind of distinct clarity and transparency innovated by ECM. As gentle as Cyminology is, it's a group that, in the gentlest way possible, demands attention.
The quiet majesty of the title track unfolds gradually, gaining strength as Schwartz and Bhatti augment Samawatie and Jahnel; but the controlled emotive power of Samawatie's voice is delivered early on as, half-way through, the band drops out to leave the singer on her own, in a remarkable display of subtile expression.
Though not a large part of its repertoire, Cyminology knows how to groove, too. The irregularly metered "Sendegi," driven by Bhatti's hand percussion, demonstrates the group's more visceral side, a decidedly rhythmic track that also demonstrates Jahnel's ability to construct narrative-based solos.
As ECM continues to push the envelope of modern jazz, Cyminology is one of its best finds in recent years. As Ney is an album that speaks across borders with quiet but nevertheless passionate beauty.
Track Listing: As Ney; Niyaayesh; Kalaam/Dassthaa/Delbasstegi; Sendegi; Por Se Ssedaa; Naagofte; As Ssafar; Ashkhaa.
Personnel: Cymin Samawatie: vocals; Benedikt Jahnel: piano; Ralf Schwartz: double-bass; Ketan Bhatti: drums, percussion.