Naya Baaz, Charm Review
Crossing Boundaries: The Harmonious Fusion of Jazz and Traditional Indian Music
by Ferell Aubre
Charm is the inaugural venture from Naya Baaz, an innovative alliance between two musicians known for their musical skills in contrasting global musical traditions. Rez Abbasi, a recent Guggenheim Fellow who migrated from Karachi to California in his early years, has earned recognition as a guitarist merging his passion for Jazz (manifested in his previous notable release, ‘Django-Shift’) with a plethora of influences from South Asia and beyond. In contrast, Josh Feinberg is among the few Western musicians to excel in the intricate tradition of the Hindustani sitar, specializing in the Maihar Gharana style from North India, while also boasting a background as a jazz bassist trained by Paul Bley and Dave Holland. “Josh seamlessly integrates jazz harmony and chromaticism with Indian musical traditions,” remarks Rez, “That’s an unusual blend indeed.” The ensemble is rounded out by Jennifer Vincent’s unique five-string cello, offering both basslines and melodies and Satoshi Takeishi’s specially augmented drum set.
When Abbasi and Feinberg began to exchange musical concepts, they quickly identified they were venturing into unexplored territory. Rez explains, “No one has ever incorporated these kinds of chromatic melodies and harmonies on sitar, but Josh had a luthier construct a unique sitar that allowed us to actualize the band’s vision.” The duo engaged in a genuinely collaborative songwriting process as they navigated emerging opportunities. Charm is the culmination – a musical suite naturally segmented into three parts, each introduced briefly.
The dynamic “Bekhayal” was Rez’s first composition that ignited the project. “This was the piece that ignited the energy for the remaining music as initially, we doubted it could be rendered on sitar, but when Josh succeeded, we realized the project’s potential,” says Rez. Again, the influence of traditional Indian music can be heard and felts. The guitar and sitar form a magical sound as the two manipulate the melody. For Jennifer’s cello solo, the ensemble slows the tempo to allow for the subtle textures of the cello to emerge. Rez generates a jazz-inspired cycle of tension and resolution through his musical solo. The textural element of this performance is unusual and enjoyable.
The album concludes with “Peony,” a light classical melody composed by Josh, performed in a duet with Rez. This duet allows us to hear and appreciate the charismatic and abundant ideas the two musicians generate together. Josh’s sitar playing is robust as he builds captivating ideas with Rez. When the two play chords together, it is surprisingly clear and harmonious. The tones of the two instruments combine in an unexpected yet fantastic way, morphing into something sonically different and musically delightful. This is a standout collaborative moment on the album.
Charm is an album that confirms the creativity of two talents, culminating in a genuinely distinctive narrative. The album strikes a balance between innovative exploration and a profound understanding of musical traditions, making it a significant milestone in cross-cultural music and an exceedingly engaging and delightful listening experience. The ensemble all speaks the same musical language and performs beautifully. Once again, showing the Charm of musical synthesis and is highly recommended for those in search of a unique sonic journey.
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