Simin Tander's evolution has been fascinating to behold since her impressive debut Wagma
(Neuklang Records, 2011), which featured pianist Jeroen van Vliet
, bassist Cord Heineking
and Etienne Nillesen
on drums. The German/Afghan singer's whispered gravitas and keening lyricism on jazz-filtered chanson, Latin American balladry and her poetic originals was captivating enough, but her non-syllabic vocal improvisations signalled an original artist, unbound by convention. That same line-up delivered the even stronger Where Water Travels Home
(Jazzhaus Records, 2014), with Tander expanding her range with Afghan poems sung in her father's native Pashto.
For What Was Said
(ECM, 2016) Tander joined Tord Gustavsen
and Jarle Vespestad
, finding her muse in the poetry of 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, via the prism of Norwegian church music. What might have sounded risqué on paper scored international success, the trio touring the world extensively to unanimous public and critical acclaim.
Where the comfortable next step would have been to hit repeat, or return to the bosom of her first quartet, Tander chose a different path. With Unfading
, Tander again displays the essential elements of her craft: poetry-inspired balladry in various languages, and her trademark vocal improvisation, with electric bassist Björn Meyer
, drummer Samuel Rohrer
and Tunisian viola d'amore player Jasser Haj Youssef
sparking fresh chemistry.
"Hovering Winds," a prayer-like unaccompanied vocal improvisation sets the mood by quietly commanding attention. On "Nargees," an aching interpretation of a poem by 17th-century Afghan poetess Nazo Toki, the beauty of both Tander's voice and the Pashto language are set in relief against spare accompaniment. Tander addresses two poems by contemporary Afghan poetess Sohayla Hasrat-Nazimi: on "Sta Lorey" bass ostinato and shaker provide insistent grooves beneath Tander's yearning, sensual vocal and Jasser Haj 's edgy counterpoint; and the violist lends sympathetic support to Tander's mournful lament on "Walli De Haal Ne Wayee," an emotionally poignant duet that arrests time.
Tander's own compositionsessentially poems set to musiclean towards the melancholy, though her voice occasionally takes powerful flight, as on the striking gothic tale "Walk Each Other Home," and on the unaccompanied, wordless vignette "Breath." Drone-like bass effects and a sombre beat convey a funereal air on the title track, though there is great allure in the chemistry between Tander's soothing tenor and Jasser Haj's yearning legato. Musical box delicacy pervades "The Sea Is Near," a lullaby of sorts, while more sombre lyricism colors the wordless "And the Water Stretches Far Away."
By contrast, the Pashto-sung "Yar Kho Laro," from a 1960 Afghan film, is given a rock treatment, with Meyer's driving bass and Tander's soaring vocal combining powerfully to provide an album highlight. Elsewhere, Tander sings in Spanish on a haunting rendition of Manuel de Fallas' "Nana," duets with Rohrer on "Deserted"a reworking of a Gabriela Mistral poemand gives a sultry, recitative interpretation of a Sylvia Plath poem on "Feather/I am Vertical." A stripped down, intimate arrangement of Bob Dylan
's "The Times They Are A Changing" closes the album on an understated though emotive note.
Like a morning raga, Unfading
invites silent meditation. For those who surrender to Tander's singular spells the rewards are bountiful.
Hovering Winds; Nargees; Walk Each other Home; Feather/I Am Vertical; Sta Lorey; Walli De Haal Ne
Wayee; Unfading; Yar Koh Laro; Deserted; Nana; The Sea Is Near; Breath; Nargees Afterglow; And the
Water Stretches Far Away; The Times They Are A Changing.
Björn Meyer: effects.