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Cyminology Bemun by Cymin Samawatie

Bemun unintentionally could be one of the most interesting releases of the year, not only because of the honesty and the originality of the music as it synthesizes jazz and Persian poetic influence, but also because of the perspective it casts upon unfortunate recent political events. Cyminology’s music on one level is neutral, for music simply is, without inherent political bias or personal basis. A tone is a tone; a note is a note; a sound is a sound; a chord is a chord. But still, music can’t avoid cultural reference and affecting listeners deeply through emotional content. The strengths of Cyminology are the excellence of the performers recording Bemun and the authenticity of the music as singer Cymin Samawatie chose to combine the universal sentiments of ancient Persian poetry with jazz harmonies and rhythms. Especially in the past decade, jazz has embraced world cultures to enrich its textures and expand its horizons. Still, Samawatie, a German daughter of Iranian immigrants, maybe be one of the first to explore such a merging of American and Iranian cultures for intriguing musical results. In fact, Cyminology is yet another example of an internationally derived jazz group which combines talents and facilitates mutual understanding from disparate backgrounds to achieve innovative results. Samawatie of course has Iranian heritage and studied jazz in Berlin. Pianist Benedikt Jahnel is a German native now studying in New York. Bassist Ralf Schwarz has studied jazz in Bremen. And drummer-percussionist Ketan Bhatti was born in New Delhi and grew up in Germany.

Appropriately, none other than Bobby McFerrin has recognized the potential of Cyminology as he asked Samawatie to join him in a German concert to sing a vocal remix of Persian poems. An ambassador of jazz to the rest of the world through irrepressible energy and adoption of wordless vocals enjoyable by anyone with a sense of childlike wonder and imagination, McFerrin would recognize the beauty of the music and the lyrics from eleventh-century master poets like Omar Khayyam, Khajeh Shamseddin Mohammed Hafiz Shirazi and Nezāmi Ganjavī. Much of that music is included in Bemun, as Samawatie uses short verses as departure points for improvisation: "Whether at Naishapur or Babylon / Whether the Cup with Sweet or Bitter run / The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop / The Leaves of Life kept falling one by one." Indeed, Samawatie’s composition to present these lyrics remind one of Chick Corea’s "Spain," which McFerrin famously sang with Corea on Play. However, Samawatie’s range and articulation, combining apparent Sephardic and Andalusian flamenco references with Middle Eastern vocal tradition, is more reminiscent of Jackie Allen’s version on The Men in My Life, as she acrobatically tackles the broad, rapid-fire intervals of her own writing.

In addition, the instrumentalists of Cyminology deserve much credit for setting the mood for Samawatie’s singing and for elaborating upon its potential through further development of her themes. Jahnel commences "Porr Kon" cleverly, at first with a percussive whisper, by playing and then sustaining the same note as if he were playing a sitar or a reed instrument until its volume rises to an upper-treble sprinkle of notes introducing Samawatie. After the vocal exposition of the theme, Jahnel then provides crashing chords, technically ferocious serpentine vamps and off-the-beat accents to reinforce the drama of the singing over Bhatti’s cymbals. "Gofteguje Man" starts with a perambulating feel created by Schwarz’s resonant bass and Bhatti’s hand percussion, swaying and infectious, that animates Samawatie’s top-of-her-range vocals. But then Jahnel’s chords leave no doubt about the jazz influence in the group’s music, and at times Samawatie’s singing is reminiscent of Claudio Acuña’s, with emotional weight infusing the lyrics as she is accompanied by musicians who share a world of musical influences without boundaries. Some of the tracks like "Sia" are instrumental, this one featuring Bhatti as he establishes the rhythm while Jahnel outlines the harmonic possibilies before the abrupt ending.

Co-producer and guitarist Frank Möbus joins the quartet on "Bi Deldari," a mysterious song of middle-range melancholy ("miserable is the heart that has no beloved") ornamented by Jahnel’s repetitive upper-register pattern and Möbus’s languorous sustained guitar effects and shaken percussive instruments. "Gosara," a flirtatious song on which Möbus performs too, is brighter as it lurches along at odd meter, held together by Schwarz’s firm bass lines a contrast to the more serious performances of Bemun..

As if to assert a point about the universality of music, literature and humanity, Samawaie includes near the end "Meloton," which refers in swirling six-eight musical form to Revelation 22:13: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." The track itself is mostly instrumental, with dynamic harmonic ascents and upswept cyclonic movements. And so ends one of the more interesting world jazz releases recently...and unexpectedly topical as well.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Cymin Samawatie
  • CD Title: Cyminology Bemun
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Double Moon
  • Tracks: Gofteguje Man, Aresuje Didar, Porr Kon, Bemun (Naomi), Sia, Bi Deldari, Sefied, Gosara, Sabs, Sochan Schenass, Meloton, Sard
  • Musicians: Cymin Samawatie (vocals), Benedikt Jahnel (piano), Frank Möbus (guitar), Ralf Schwarz (bass), Ketan Bhatti (drums, percussion)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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