Cyminology: Phoenix (ECM 2397)



Cymin Samawatie vocals
Benedikt Jahnel piano
Ralf Schwarz double bass
Ketan Bhatti drums, percussion
Martin Stegner viola
Recorded March 2014 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: 20 February 2015 (Europe only)

My melodies are reaching your heart, how come?
My words are easing your pain, how come?
Everything that I do, I don’t do it myself, how come?
I live for the ones, who love me
Why not for myself?

Cymin Samawatie, whose band Cyminology has swum twice in ECM waters (cf. 2009’s As Ney and 2011’s Saburi), is a crosser of barriers at once ethnic, linguistic, and musical. Such a characterization risks painting the German-Iranian singer as an enigma, when in fact she gives voice to her gifts through love of sentiment, empathy for politics, and humility of creation in a way so grounded, it feels as if she is singing as much for you alone as for the world. Samawatie’s backing trio of pianist Benedikt Jahnel, bassist Ralf Schwarz, and drummer Ketan Bhatti now welcomes violist Martin Stegner, whose presence is as defining as it is dressed in shadow. The voices of his bow constitute nominal additions, but their presence removes a few more layers of perception to reveal the naked truth of every note they touch.


The appropriately titled Phoenix revisits Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzaad (1935-1967), from whose own premature ashes emerged the winged verses explored therein. Farrokhzaad paints a veritable world around her body, which in “Aaftaab” and “Gozaraan” binds the narrator hand and food with ribbons of love’s many unspoken hues. The latter song’s improvisatory colors slip into a black hole as quickly as they emerge from one, feeling through the dark as if by every word, a fingertip. This is much in contrast with the former song, which unfolds, fractal-like, inlaying repeated patterns and meshing viola and voice interchangeably. Likewise, Farrokhzaad’s shapes tend toward a yin and yang relationship, whereby every pool of light contains one fish of dark, and vice versa. Like the stars she collects in “Harire Buse,” which accompanies Samawatie by bass alone, they shine only because of the unknowable pitch in which they swim.

Yet nowhere does Farrokhzaad—and Samawatie, by extension—speak so inwardly as in the closing “Baraaye To.” Here drums and bass shed their rigid constructions to better comprehend Cymin’s realisms as she sings:

I am writing this poem for you
In the sunset, in the thirsty summer
On a half gone, fatal way
In the old grave of my endless pain

Let my eyes overflow again
with dewdrops

The day will come when your yearning sight
Will fall on this painful tune
Searching within my words
You will say: “This was my mother”

Throughout this incremental, emotional implosion, the band’s melodic blush yields more than the sum of its parts and proves that life can be written only on the palimpsest of memory.

The distinction of Cyminology as a vocally-centered group is that its instrumentalists also emit a poetry of their own, every bit as verbal as their bandleader’s. This is nowhere truer than throughout Samawatie’s own songs, wherein members of the rhythm section, into which the piano grows to be an interlocking part, punctuate each other’s sentences until they are spherical—global, if you will. Her texts may be far more concise, but their impact is anything but. In the pulsing infrastructure of “Che Gune Ast,” she activates a fierce individuality. From the pulsing pianism, which gives a sun for drums to compass their solar system, to the viola’s innocence, which feels almost blood-related to the breath-drawn bass, Samawatie’s singing tracks every change of mood as if it were a diary in real time. “Talaash Makon” is another duet, this time pairing her with Jahnel, whose defining pianism sets up one patch of earth per footstep. The band saves its deepest poetry for “Baraaye Ranj,” which, although effectively wordless, nevertheless alters its own DNA as if by language alone.

From Nimā Yushij (1896-1960), so-called father of Persian poetry, comes the album’s title poem. Over the course of its two parts, Samawatie embodies the fabled bird’s tragic cycle, which in this context becomes an exercise in self-reflection. The viola reveals itself as a descriptive force, soaring with arpeggios before landing on the mountain from which Yushij unspools its sorrowful cry. In Part II, the instrumentalists are Erdnase-shuffled into Samawatie’s muscular legato, by which new details emerge from every listen.

A canonical Sufi poem by Hāfez (c. 1325-1390) completes the mosaic. The mournful “Dishab” is the album in miniature, blending clearly defined voices into an even more clearly defined whole, while holding on to one elemental mantra: there can be no water without land. And indeed, as a whole these melodies reach out their talons and pull until sky and earth become one horizon, opening an internal eye that interlocks with the external knowing of being gazed upon. By this dynamic, the listener turns into participant and allows the music to be reborn through the act of knowing it.

(To hear samples of Phoenix, you may watch the EPK above or click here.)

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