Cyminology: Phoenix (ECM 2397)

Phoenix

Cyminology
Phoenix

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.

Cyminology

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.)

Cyminology: Saburi (ECM 2164)

Saburi

Cyminology
Saburi

Cymin Samawatie vocals
Benedikt Jahnel piano
Ralf Schwarz double-bass
Ketan Bhatti drums, percussion
Recorded January 2010 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Following their 2009 ECM debut As Ney, singer Cymin Samawatie, pianist Benedikt Jahnel, bassist Ralf Schwarz, and drummer Ketan Bhatti tessellate their heritages once again in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio. As Cyminology they thicken the stem sprouted on that first outing, growing new offshoots along the way. From poetry of the past, Samawatie turns her attention to the tectonic plates of allegiance that define our political world in the here and now, using only self-penned words to express her visions of conflict from afar. Yet rather than engage in fruitless proselytizing, the album forges its own continent. Without borders.

The smoothness achieved by this enmeshed quartet is subtly effusive and affecting. Painting with colors imported directly from nature, Samawatie’s fluted vocals shift through Jahnel’s arpeggios in “Sibaai” as would an eel through seaweed, thus starting out the disc with a feeling of current. Jahnel’s contributions are indeed inspiring at every turn. Be they the exquisite harmonies of the title track or the Beethovenian interiorities of “Hedije” (for indeed, the album feels like a chain of unwritten Moonlight Sonatas), he turns water into crystal with every stroke. The same goes for Schwarz and Bhatti, who in the song “Shakibaai” weave a carpet so plush as to shield Samawatie’s barefooted cantoring from the magma below.

As ever, her voice spreads from center to periphery, bleeding through the fever dream of “As maa” and on through the diagrams of “Nemibinam,” in which she reveals a hidden dance. Despite Samawatie’s penchant for textual color, through which she impedes clarity of expression through the mystery of meaning, the wordless singing of “Norma” most forthrightly expresses her art. Named for Norma Winstone, it is truly something special. What’s more, her voice need not even be there to affect us, as shown by the concluding “Hawaa.”

That the album’s title means “patience” is an afterthought to what is already obvious. That such fullness can let the wind through without impediment is testament enough to the group’s meticulousness. Like a pinwheel activated by breath of slumber, its turns in self-hypnosis, that it might see the light of day whenever the skies grow dark.

(To hear samples of Saburi, click here.)

Cyminology: As Ney (ECM 2084)

As Ney

Cyminology
As Ney

Cymin Samawatie vocals
Benedikt Jahnel piano
Ralf Schwarz double-bass
Ketan Bhatti drums, percussion
Recorded April 2008 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

My whole being is a dark chant
which will carry you
perpetuating you
to the dawn of eternal growths and blossoming
in this chant I sighed you sighed
in this chant
I grafted you to the tree to the water to the fire
–Forugh Farrokhzād (1935-1967)

When the title track of As Ney wraps around your heart, there’s almost no need for words. Piano and voice are locked, cymbals raining down in a sprinkle of fairy dust at the periphery of a magic circle. The feelings seek us out, like the bass that coats the band’s delicate tensions with gold. Incantations become translucent, inserting coins into an offering box that resonates with song. Spinning that song is Cymin Samawatie, vocalist and leader of the group Cyminology, which makes its ECM debut here. Samawatie draws on her Iranian heritage and the poetic tradition it embraces, touching vital pressure points at the 13th (Rumi) and 14th (Hafiz) centuries, while also building her own. Another vivid influence is Forugh Farrokhzād, the iconoclastic poet and filmmaker of Iran whose overtly female-centered voice forever transformed the face of Persian verse.

All of this she splashes through the prism of a fresh trio of improvisers. Vital to the group’s sound is Benedikt Jahnel. The Berlin-based pianist is a welcome addition to the ECM fold, having more recently released the groundbreaking Equilibrium, and brings that same open approach to the rhythms of Samawatie’s ruminant canto style. New Delhi-born drummer Ketan Bhatti is even more linguistically inclined, taking inspiration from the text and the moment in equal measure. Completing the circle is bassist Ralf Schwarz, the keystone of this sonic archway.

Press Photography / 2010 / Berlin Commissioned by ECM Records / Munich

What begins in “Niyaayesh” as dry land is, by the final “Ashkhaa,” a raindrop turned ocean. Every lap of wave becomes an ephemeral scale on the earth’s thirsty skin, a wish fulfilled through its disappearance. The road to getting there is riddled with dreams, some clock-like (“As Ssafar”), others halting (“Sendegi”), and still others brooding (“Por se ssedaa”). At their core is the triptych “Kalaam/Dassthaa/Delbasstegi,” which dovetails forces in rich synergy, every word the rib of a fan between which the instruments are sketches of webbing, amorphous yet firm. The keyhole into each new section opens by breath.

Despite the woven textuality of As Ney, “Naagofte” is Cyminology at its purest. Its aquatic wordless vocals nonetheless convey a story, a rite of passage from sober to possessed and back again. The melody is life, such that when words flip their pages toward the end in guise of morning light, they simultaneously caress the dead. Such border-crossing power is Samawatie’s forte. Without her, the shadows overwhelm. Why follow your eyes, she seems to ask. Let the echo be your footpath.

As Ney promotional video (in German):