Israeli pianist-composer Avishai Darash made a deliberate effort to combine his Middle Eastern heritage with western influences in this music. The album title comes from Indian philosophy: "Samskaras" are the sum of all mental, physical and psychological impressions left in the body of an individual. Darash takes the opportunity to revisit some of his earlier material, and the players also reflect his recent experiences. Double bassist Daniele Cappucci and drummer Joan Terol Amigó were band-mates on Nomadic Treasures (A. MA Records, 2018), while violinist Abderrahim Semlali and oud player Haytham Safia are colleagues from the Amsterdams Andalusisch Orkest.
The core group is a piano trio with piano, double bass and drums (which is also three-quarters of Nomadic Treasures). They perform as a trio on four of the tracks. These are certainly the selections with the clearest jazz influence. But they still offer a range of moods, from the romanticism of "About Her" to the buoyant "About Him" to the lyricism of "Lullaby For Benvadid." The last was first recorded as a solo piano piece on his debut album Impermanence (Self Produced, 2016).
When vocalist Karima el Fillali is added, the result is more direct communication, similar to the Nomadic Treasures material. The opening track, "Jajouka," displays the full quintet, in Middle Eastern mode. Semlali's composition features the whole band, with wordless vocals. "Earth Saung" has Karima's vocals with the trio, an inspired collaboration. "Joy" expresses everything the title promises, in the vocals and the trio improvisation that follows. "Like Butter In The Sun" is a tuneful exploration of the difference between infatuation and true love, first performed by Nomadic Treasures (although it does not appear on the album).
The tracks with the trio plus violin and oud are the fullest expression of the Middle Eastern style. "New Vision" is Safia's tune in Darash's arrangement, after playing it with the Amsterdams Andalusisch Orkest. The title tune explores a Bulgarian dance in 11, which combines jazz and Middle Eastern influences. "Ten Sephiroth" is written in 10/8, and bridges the worlds of jazz and Maqam music.
Samskara is a delightful melding of influences: jazz, Middle Eastern traditions, plus a bit of tuneful pop. Darash has found another winning vocalist in El Fillali, while Semlali and Safia shine as accompanists and soloists. The entire group has a joy in music-making that is infectious.
Jajouka; About Her; About Him; Earth Saung; New Vision; Joy; Lullaby For Bendavid; Samskara; Purusha; Like Butter In The Sun; Ten Sephiroth.