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Rain Sultanov: Inspired by Nature

Ian Patterson By

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Azerbaijani saxophonist/composer Rain Sultanov has long drawn inspiration from his country's rich culture and stunning landscapes. On Inspired by Nature—Sultanov's eighth release as leader—the saxophonist toggles between lyrical balladry and passionate exposition as he takes Azerbaijan's nature as his muse. And it has been an epic venture. With a band of trusted musicians, Sultanov led an expedition around Azerbaijan, recording the natural sounds they encountered in the great mountains, by the Caspian Sea and on the flat plains. These recordings and impressions were then transported to Jan Erik Kongshaug's Rainbow Studio in Oslo and musically shaped by Sultanov under the guidance of the legendary sound engineer. The result is music that is never less than engaging, and that at its best, exhibits haunting beauty.

The bar is set high from the get go with "The White Birds of Qizilagac," an achingly lyrical composition of chamber jazz delicacy. Sultanov's soprano saxophone and cellist Linnea Olsson—who doubles on wordless vocals—carve the beguiling melody over a gentle pulse courtesy of Yashuito Mori's spare, richly sonorous double bass, Peter Nilsson's brushes and Iraku Koiava's gentle metallic percussion. These elements are the currents buoying pianist Shahin Novrasli's gliding, soaring flights in this quietly stunning opener.

Drama courses through the up-tempo "Up Lahij Mountains," with Novrasli and Sultanov unleashing energized yet contrasting solos over Nilsson and Mori's viscous rhythms—the pianist's lines smooth-flowing, the saxophonist all staccato bursts. For Sultanov, however, the composition is the thing, and nowhere is this better illustrated than on the minor epic "On The Trail of Shirvan's Gazelles," a slow-burning, Wayne Shorter-esque meditation that employs space to powerful effect. Novrasli's elegant solo—the left hand all but dormant—may be the centre-piece, but it's the simple beauty of saxophone and cello entwined in melody that remains foremost in the mind.

Sultanov juggles his ensemble to suit the mood: piano quartet carries "On the Absheron Hook," a nostalgic chamber piece uplifted by Mori's earthy bass improvisation; the trio of Yasef Eyvazov on oud, Sultanov on soprano saxophone and Koiava's deft percussion combine on the atmospheric intro to "Wild Wind of Zuvend," which then erupts into emotively charged modal terrain, with Sultanov and Novrasli sparring over a rumbling, broiling rhythmic stew.

Sultanov switches to tenor saxophone on the slower "Hirkan's Colors," where, shadowed on the defining melody by Ollson's cello, the saxophonist's subsequent yearning solo inspires an emotive response from the more expansive Novrasli. Oud, tenor and piano pass the baton in a series of plaintive, blues-infused solos on "The Breath of An Caspian Volcano," with Koiava's sotto voce udu providing the sole accompaniment.

An over-arching emotive vein permeates the music, whose suite-like qualities are perhaps best appreciated in uninterrupted flow. There's stark beauty in Sultanov's open love letter to his country -an intimate narrative that fires the imagination, and ultimately, seduces the heart.

Track Listing: Intro – The White Birds of Qizilagac; The White Birds of Qizilagac; Up Lahij Mountains; Intro – On The Trail of Shirvan’s Gazelles; On The Trail of Shirvan’s Gazelles; On the Absheron Hook; Intro - Wild Wind of Zuvend; Wild Wind of Zuvend; Hirkan’s Colors; The Breath of an Caspian Volcano

Personnel: Rain Sultanov: soprano, tenor saxophones; Shahin Novrasli: piano; Linnea Olsson: cello, voice; Yasef Eyvazov: oud; Yasuhito Mori: double bass; Peter Nilsson: drums; Irakli Koiava: percussion.

Title: Inspired by Nature | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Ozella Music

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