Every time you feel a little jaded about jazz, out comes an album that is completely surprising. This was the case with Avaaz, by a collective led by percussionist Sunny Jain, who brings his Asian heritage into the jazz realm with incredibly welcome results.
The opening track, "Sialkot (the title refers to a city in Punjab now part of Pakistan), begins with an Eastern feel. The words, sung by vocalist Samita Sinha, were taken from an Urdu poem set to music by Jain. The song then moves into a more free jazz improvisational mode, shifting back to its Eastern roots at the conclusion.
One of the album's most welcoming moments is "Johnny Black (yep, that Johnny), an odd-tempo tune in which Rez Abbasi works magic on the sitar-guitar. The instrument, which became popular as George Harrison and Brian Jones brought Eastern influences into the realm of pop music, is used here not only as a lead instrument, but also as the glue that brings all the others together.
Also of note is the beautiful ballad "Meri Bhavana (My Aspirations), a Hindi song that receives a respectful Westernized arrangement. Sinha sings passionately to a background dominated by bassist Gary Wang. You might not understand the words, but the melody and feel take you to a more peaceful and quiet place than the noisy streets of New York. The lyrics (translated on the insert) speak of spiritual cleansing from egotism, anger and envy while embracing the virtues of friendship, joy and peace of mind.
Listen also to "Wo Xiang Ni (Mandarin for "I Think of You ), which begins with dreamy, multilayered vocals and then goes into a mantra-inspired mode that showcases the fine chops of saxophonist Steve Welsh.
Avaaz leads the listener on a journey of discovery with surprises everywhere.
Sialkot; Avaaz; Pink City; Johnnie Black; Meri Bhavana; Awaara Hoon; Wo Xiang Ni; Baraat; Lazaro.
Sunny Jain: drumset/dhol/laptop sounds; Rez Abbasi: guitar/sitar-guitar; Gary Wang:
acoustic bass; Steve Welsh: tenor & soprano saxophones/effects; Samita Sinha: vocals.
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