Saffron – Dawning (Palmetto Records)

Saffron, DawningGorgeously sensual, this lush world- jazz is so global that it connects 13th century Persian poetry with the Rolling Stones

4 Stars

7 Tracks / 70 Minutes

Often a release reinforces the feeling that corporate music is ridiculously over-valued and that radio space should feature more independent projects. This unique piece of world jazz with classical overtones is just that kind of collection.

Unusually, this East-West team is a mix of jazz pianist Kevin Hays, Grammy-nominated sitar master Shujaat Husain Khan, tabla player Abhiman Kaushal and Tim Ries, the saxophonist with The Rolling Stones. Their work feeds off sultry vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, reading out Rumi’s 13th century poems in the original Persian. Don’t think that recited lyrics take anything away from the music: the epic and moody title track lasts nearly 21 minutes (without even beginning to outstay its welcome) and the poetry (about love and unity) is only a very small part. What is more, Goudarzi’s vocals are so striking and mood-setting that you might even want more.

Diverse as it is, this ensemble certainly works as a team. With only very minimal over-dubs, the players give each other room to lead and answer back. A sax player who has worked with the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett and Stevie Wonder might seem to be out of place on a disc that walks at the pace of a camel under a transfixing sun, but his work with Paul Simon might suggest how well he blends into a globally eclectic band.

Brief, evocative titles (such as “Trembling” and “Tease”) catch the open and almost erotic tone of this music. Goudarzi describes it as a space where Indian classical, Western jazz music and classical Persian poetry meet. Later pieces seem to pick up nuances of the title track’s themes and there is a slight sameness across the disc, but it is a sumptuous sameness and that makes it all the more suitable for an ambient mood.

Maybe it is the simplicity of the themes that leads to such a pleasing set of democratically-balanced improvisations. They are easy to play with. Both woodwind and piano find the rise and fall of the main riff in “Tease” perfect for playing with in decidedly jazzy fashion, yet it builds like an India raga and Khan moves his sitar forward for a gentle climax.

I fell in love with this on the first listen. If you are at all inclined towards exotically colourful, emotionally-charged and yet relaxing music, this jazz-classical mix is so easy to enjoy and sure to satisfy.

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