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Saffron’s CD titled Dawning, which is due to be released on Feb. 5 from Palmetto Records, is steered by the poetry of Rumi and an enduring tradition of poetic recitation fused with musical discourse. Saffron is made up of five members, Persian vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, Grammy-nominated sitar master Sujaat Khan, rock/ jazz saxophonist Tim Ries, Abhiman Kaushal on the tabla and composer/jazz pianist Kevin Hays. Goudarzi grew up hearing Rumi’s poetry on the radio, recited by dedicated artists in her native Iran. After Goudarzi came to the US, she continued to explore the connection she felt toward Rumi’s words. She worked tirelessly on her recitation, finding her own voice and consulted scholars and the broad body of secondary literature on the poet, his life, and his thoughts. At the same time, she found innovative ways to integrate her recitation into musical pieces, collaborating with diverse musicians in the process. Goudarzi then met Khan, a seventh-generation North Indian sitar player and they discovered their common love of recited poetry in India. Their recording then fell into the hands of Tim Reis, who was known for his jazz work and as The Rolling Stone’s sax player. They later all met in Los Angeles, which brought in jazz pianist/composer Hays and Kaushal on the tabla. The sitar is a plucked string instrument used in mainly Indian music while the tabla is a percussion instrument similar to bongos. On Dawning Saffron succeeds in unifying jazz, classical and traditional Indian/Persian music to create profound compositions.
The opening track is the title track and it’s a tad lengthy at just under 21 minutes long but it’s worth it. Hays’ classical piano work is accompanied by Khan’s relaxing sitar play. It could make listeners picture themselves in a spa in a faraway land while the music soothes them into a calm almost meditative state. “Tease” begins with Khan’s commanding sitar work, which booms at times then trails off. It’s another lengthy track at 17 and a half minutes long but again its peaceful melody will make the time fly by. “The Inquisitor" brings back the musical pairing of Hays’ tickling of the ivories and Khan’s calming sitar. This track has more of a classical bend to it than the previous tracks and is just over 16 minutes long. On “Yours” Goudarzi’s hypnotic vocals along with Hays’ deep piano play makes this the quintessential love song. Though Goudarzi is speaking in another language, her tone and intonation conveys penetrating emotion. Hays’ piano work does lighten a tad as the song progresses and in the background listeners will be able to hear Reis’ jazzy sax play and Kaushal’s faint use of the tabla. “Overcome” begins with authoritative piano notes from Hays, with frequent pauses in between notes. Again, this track lends itself to a more classical rhythm than the others. On “Nomad” Kaushal’s tabla skills are made wickedly apparent as he pounds away on the percussion instrument as Khan plays the sitar and Reis’ sax talent is also portrayed as he wails away too. Finally, “Trembling” has Khan’s masterful sitar play throughout. Listeners could picture themselves in India hearing this song that utilizes an instrument that is inherent of the country’s musical culture.
In conclusion, Dawning from Saffron is a wonderful expression of Indian and Persian musical philosophy. The use of the sitar and tabla mixed with the traditional sax and piano bring a fresh and palliative tone to many of the tracks while others are sure to liven listeners’ spirits.