Jazz has intersected with music from around the world for decades and I’m always eager to hear new cross-cultural musical projects. Avishai Darash is an Amsterdam based pianist with roots in Israel and musical knowledge and experience from across the Mediterranean and North Africa. ‘Samskara’ is his second release on the Italian label A.MA Records. His collaborating musicians on this album include double bassist Daniele Cappucci, drummer Joan Terol Amigó, violinist Abderrahim Semlali, oud player Haytham Safia and vocalist Karima el Fillali. Several pieces are trio numbers; there are four numbers with vocals, and four with violin and oud, including the opening number ‘Jajouka’ which immediately establishes a Mediterranean sound with its arco bass and Middle Eastern inflected violin. Jajouka is mountain village in Morocco made famous by The Master Musicians of Jajouka, who played with Ornette Coleman among others.
The album title and several of its compositions refer to non-Western systems of knowledge and spirituality. ‘Samskara’, as the liner notes explain, is a term in Indian and yogic teaching and means the totality of all impressions – mental, physical, psychological – retained in one’s body through one’s life journey. ‘Purusha’ is from the Upanishads and refers to the concept of a cosmic self or unchanging universal principal. The final number ‘Ten Sephiroth’ refers to the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah and the ten emanations through which the infinite is revealed. Clearly, the music here is intended to evoke the spiritual, and it succeeds in many ways (not least of which is the vocal performance of Karima El Fillali on ‘Joy’).
Swipe for a sample from ‘Ten Sephiroth’, which features an amazing oud solo. I’m a big fan of the oud in jazz; have loved its sound since Ahmed Abdul-Malik joined Coltrane on the Village Vanguard sessions. Where I live, one of the world’s great oud masters, Joseph Tawadros, plays regularly. On this album, the interaction between Haytham Safia and the band, and especially with Darash’s piano, is for me a highlight.