Monday, May 11, 2009

Cyminology in New York

If ever a group was suited for the cosmopolitan Big Apple, it would be Cyminology. Consisting of the Iranian-German vocalist Cymin Samawatie, the French-German Benedikt Jahnel on piano, the Indian-German Ketan Bhatti on drums and percussion, along with the non-hyphenated German Ralf Schwarz on bass, the members of Cyminology might have very diverse backgrounds, but they share a unified musical spirit. Out of many influences, they have developed a distinct sound all their own, blending jazz, world music influences, and Persian poetry. Accomplished road warriors, they are currently on the New York leg of a tour supporting As Ney, their debut CD for the prestigious ECM label (and third overall). It has offered New Yorkers a chance to hear them in intimate concerts settings perfectly suited to their graceful, haunting music, as was the case Saturday night at alwan for the arts.

Samawatie is a poised performer with a striking stage-presence, which she established immediately on the opening song, Hafiz’s “Por sa ssedaa (Resonating),” entering after an extended instrumental prelude, dramatically vocalizing as she took the stage. Evidently, Cyminology’s live performances notably also allow the musicians take more space to stretch out in their solos, particularly Jahnel on piano, which should well satisfy more orthodox jazz listeners. In fact, Samawatie took visible joy his rhapsodic runs on their adaptation of Rumi’s “As Ney,” as his churning rhythm section-mates egged him on.

While the lion’s share of their concert drew from the current ECM release, they also included one song from each previous CD, including a rousing interpretation of Khayyam’s poetry, featuring a dynamic but tasteful drum and percussion solo from Bhatti. The first set concluded with another truly transformative take on the Hafiz’s verse, marked by the trance-inducing rhythms of Jahnel’s piano.

The shorter second set essentially consisted of Samawatie’s triptych of original verse, “Kalaam/Dassthaa/Delbasstegi (Words/Hands/Closeness),” which she impressively translated for the audience from contemporary Iranian Persian, then to German, and eventually into English. It is a richly textured piece, evolving seamlessly between movements, reaching a crescendo with Jahnel’s dazzling solo, which literally brought the pianist out of his seat.

Even if you do not understand Samawatie’s Persian lyrics, the spiritual nature of Cyminology’s music is clearly audible. Particularly in live performance, her arresting vocals are a transcendent listening experience. Their final New York gig of the As Ney tour will be at Puppets Jazz in Brooklyn, tomorrow night.