“In the music of the intriguing world jazz project known as Cyminology, contemplative jazz and chamber-esque qualities converge in a distinctive admix of influences, from Persian, European and even residual Brazilian musical languages …Samawatie wends her vocal parts through the alternately open and intricate compositional designs of the music. While the well-worn phrase ‘multicultural’ springs to mind, so does the phrase ‘self-defining poetic logic’.” Josef Woodard, JazzTimes
The second ECM album from Berlin-based band Cyminology, recorded likes its predecessor in Oslo, with Manfred Eicher producing, takes further the modus operandi outlined on the critically-acclaimed “As Ney”, and shows a growth of musical confidence on all fronts. Interaction inside the band is increasingly dynamic. Cymin Samawatie continues to write most of the band’s material, and on the present showing, pianist Benedikt Jahnel, drummer Ketan Bhatti and bassist Ralf Schwarz are finding new freedoms inside the structures. Bhatti and Jahnel also bring their own compositions into the band; for the drummer this is a new development. “Ketan’s writing is very open”, says Cymin, “and that allows for a lot of improvisational input from everybody. Benedikt’s pieces are often more detailed in their arrangement. For me their contribution as composers is a real enrichment for the band as a whole. Offering different colours, but working within the special character of the group.”
Where, last time around, singer Cymin Samawatie drew on classic Persian poetry (Rumi, Hafez), for some of her texts, this time the lyrics are all hers. Realities of life in Iran, observed at a distance, influenced some of the writing – in particular “Shakibaai” and the title track “Saburi”. Originally written for Cymin’s performance at the 2009 Morgenland Festival in Osnabrück, these are songs shaped at a time when Ahmadinejad’s security forces were suppressing post-election protests on the streets of Tehran, and there is exasperation in the song-texts, as well as a kind of bitter stoicism. (“Saburi” translates as “patience”, “Shakibaai” as “endurance”).
Samawatie: “I’ve never wanted Cyminology to be a ‘political’ band, but I am Iranian and affected by what’s happening. I look at the situation and acknowledge there is little I can do about it. I would like to say something and I can’t, I would like to do something and I can’t. I have to admit that there is a lot of emotion happening inside myself. I can’t be there, but I’m watching from here. The song ‘Shakibaai’ touches on this aspect, too. It can be very painful to be on the outside looking in, but will weeping about it in Germany help anyone in Iran?”
Interspersed throughout the CD booklet, and implying a range of moods, by no means all troubled, are photos Cymin Samawatie took in Tehran during her last visit there some two years ago. Born to Iranian parents in Braunschweig, Germany, in 1976, she was raised bilingually, and as a child spent part of each year in Iran.
The multicultural aggregation that is Cyminology could perhaps only have been formed in Berlin. Pianist Benedikt Jahnel, born 1980 in France, grew up near Munich, moving to Berlin in 2000. His teachers have included John Taylor, Richie Beirach and Kenny Werner. He has toured with leading international musicians including Charlie Mariano and Phil Woods, and is active also with his own trio.
Percussionist Ketan Bhatti, born in New Delhi, India in 1981, grew up in Bielefeld. Touring as a drummer since he was 14, he has been active in projects from reggae and hip-hop to jazz as both musician and producer, and also writes music for theatre productions.
Bassist Ralf Schwarz, born in 1971, grew up, like Cymin, in Braunschweig, and played organ and guitar before switching to double-bass and electric bass a decade ago. Through lessons and workshops with jazz masters like Ron Carter, Steve Coleman, Mark Dresser, Mark Helias, Richie Beirach and Billy Hart he has had the opportunity to refine and develop his skills.
Cymin Samawatie’s idea of making the Persian language a focus of her work was first developed while she was studying at Berlin’s Hochschule der Kunst, where teacher Jerry Granelli encouraged her to set Persian poetry to non-traditional arrangements, and now the sound of the language itself, its softness and suppleness, is a shaping force in the music.
But not always. “Saburi” also includes pieces that break the pattern. On the tune “Norma”, Cymin offers wordless tribute to singer Norma Winstone, whose natural unaffected vocals on the ECM album “Distances” have been a recent inspiration. “Sometimes you hear something great and you just want to give something back, to make something in similar spirit. That was the story of my piece for Norma”. Cyminology played opposite Winstone’s trio at an ECM concert series at London’s King’s Place early in 2009. In the wake of “As Ney” the group, always intrepid travellers, have toured very widely, with concerts from Rangoon to Washington D.C.
“Saburi” is launched with a February/March tour in Germany and Austria. Dates include concerts in Munich, Vienna, Stuttgart, Osnabrück, and Mannheim. Prior to the tour there will be a release concert at Berlin’s A-Trane Club on January 19, 2011. For full tour details consult the web site www.ecmrecords.com and also Cyminology’s site www.cyminology.de.