Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Poetic Cyminology

As Ney
By Cyminology
ECM Records 2084

Cymin Samawatie, born and raised in Germany, would not be allowed to front her genre-defying group Cyminology in her family’s native Iran. That is Iran’s loss. Blending jazz influences, modernist chamber music, and Persian poetry, Cyminology has a richly distinctive sound, which is dramatically captured on their first ECM release, As Ney.

As still one of the world’s most widely read poets, the thirteenth century Rumi’s Persian verse proves a fitting starting point for Cyminology’s dialogue between the ancient and contemporary with the title track “As Ney (Song of the Reed-Flute).” Adapted as a gorgeous song of longing by Samawatie, it is an excellent example of the mystical mood they create through her otherworldly vocals and the group’s evocative use of space. Samawatie also covers the fourteenth century Iranian poet Hafiz, giving “Por sa ssedaa (Resonating)” a distinctly modern sound, thanks to Ralf Schwarz’s prominent bass lines and Benedikt Jahnel’s pulsating piano vamps.

Cyminology then looks to the mid twentieth century with Jahnel’s setting of “Naagofte (Untold)” by the Iranian modernist feminist poet Forough Farrokhzaad. A trailblazing filmmaker as well as poet, Forough’s life was tragically cut short by an auto accident. Her words, which translate as: “Hang no lock of silence on these lips/For I must share my secret/And reach the ears of the world,” take on a multiplicity of meanings in Samawatie’s sensitive rendition. In an arresting arrangement, Samawatie’s wordless vocals blend seamlessly with composer Jahnel’s cascading piano, before finally concluding with Forough’s brief poem.

Samawatie’s own lyrics are decidedly spiritual in content, like the haunting “Niyaayash (Prayer),” which is strikingly shaped by Jahnel’s delicate piano figures and Ketan Bhatti’s shimmering percussive accents. While Cyminology employs the standard jazz instrumentation of a vocalist supported by a trio of piano, drums, and bass, definitively classifying their music is a tricky proposition. Perhaps the most explicitly jazz-oriented moments can be heard from Jahnel on the three-part “Kalaam/Dassthaa/Delbasstegi (Words/Hands/Closeness),” but their musicianship is consistently impressive on all tracks.

Throughout As Ney, Cyminology’s easy rapport is audibly evident in their graceful interplay and the peaceful vibe of their music. Synthesizing their diverse influences, Cyminology creates truly transfixing music, with no one seeking the solo spotlight at the expense of group solidarity. Even Samawatie’s vocals sound like an equal and inseparable part of Cyminology’s whole. As Ney is a richly textured, refreshingly thoughtful recording. It is quite distinct from other jazz and world music releases, but fans of those genres should find it accessible and rewarding.

Note: Cyminology will be performing live in New York on May 7th at the Cornelia Street Café, May 9th at Alwan for the Arts, and May 12th at Puppetsjazz in Brooklyn.