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Samir Zarif: Starting Point

Dan Bilawsky By

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Saxophonist Samir Zarif has experienced a wide cross section of the cultural landscape of the United States. Zarif grew up in Texas, spent his college years learning and performing in New Orleans, and then traveled north to New York for his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. While all of this isn't necessarily remarkable for a budding musician to take in, these experiences contrast sharply with the aural images that Zarif presents on Starting Point.

Starting Point is a brilliant, non-imitative pastiche of musical movements that are both at home and foreign to jazz. Ancient mystical music with Eastern roots ("Circle Of Truth") transitions smoothly to odd-metered, bass-grounded music of alarming focus and purpose. Avant-garde influences are also welcome at Zarif's table ("Precocious Nation" and "Fear & Deception"), and a brief segment of overdubbed saxophones finds a place within this world ("Interlude To Life") as well. While a darkly, electro-ambient showcase for Zarif's vocals ("Keep The Faith") and, to a greater extent, a pseudo-futuristic platform for his storytelling ("The Story Of "The Old Man's Box"") aren't completely complementary to the overall balance, vibe and vision presented elsewhere, it's all part of the artist's personal manner of expression, which traces its way through this ten-song program.

In all other places, Zarif's artistic integrity and sense of purpose shines bright. Clarity is key in Zarif's wailing, mournful saxophone delivery on the haunting, standout tracks that feature Maria Neckam's enchanting vocals. Neckam's angelic pipes stand alone on "Dancing In A Garden Of Dead Roses," but Zarif joins her on "This Life," adding greater emotion depth into the vocal delivery of the song. Both tracks also benefit from Zarif's saxophone moody lines, inserted in the gaps between words.

Zarif, like saxophonist David Binney—whose Mythology Records imprint released this impressive debut—is clearly confident in his ability to chart his own course without outside influences corrupting his pure musical vision.

Track Listing: Circle Of Truth; Dancing In A Garden Of Dead Roses; Letter To The Brothers; Precocious Nation; The Old Man's Box; The Story Of "The Old Man's Box"; Interlude To Life; Fear & Deception; This Life; Keep The Faith.

Personnel: Samir Zarif: soprano saxophone (3, 5, 7), tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4, 7-9), vocals (2, 6, 9, 10), electronics (6, 10); Zack Lober: electric bass (2, 5, 7), acoustic bass (1, 3, 4, 8, 9); Colin Stranahan: drums (1, 4, 7-9), percussion (1); Greg Ritchie: drums (2, 3, 5); Maria Neckam: vocals (2, 9); Lars Dietrich: alto saxophone (4, 8).

Title: Starting Point | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Mythology Records

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