Saffron’s new album Dawning is a glimmering, imaginative blend of classical south Indian ragas, jazz and western classical music. At its most rhythmically complex, it recalls Sameer Gupta’s Namaskar or some of Vijay Iyer’s work, athough it’s more hypnotic than it is lively. It’s also largely improvised, Shujaat Khan’s sitar sometimes nocturnally resonant, sometimes insistently intense against Kevin Hays’ moody, often plaintive piano and Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Ries’ terse, agile lines. Overhead, rapt and meticulous, Katayoun Goudarzi recites Rumi poems in the origianl Persian.
The practically 21-minute opening track comes together slowly in the style of a classic raga, Reis’ soprano sax adding the occasional bubbly cadenza or edgy Middle Eastern motif, Hays evoking Erik Satie, the band shifting between still, misterioso ambience and galloping intensity as a tabla rhythm picks up the pace. The second track, The Inquisitor evokes Pat Metheny (or Iyer in a rare carefree mood) as it develops a dancing, springlike theme, Reis building a bittersweet Pharaoh Sanders-ish Waiting on a Friend ambience
Yours is a comparatively brief tone poem of sorts that contrasts Hays’ bright sunshower piano with low drones. They follow with another epic, Tease, Reis’ goodnaturedly animated soprano sax bounding over hard-hitting sitar and januty blues piano, Hays wryly vamping out on the Beatles’ Blackbird at one point. But the two real stunners here are the next couple of tracks, which are vastly darker. Hays evokes noir piano legend Ran Blake in the anxious, creepily chromatic first one, Overcome, Reis’ bass clarinet adding a smoky swirl as Khan plays menacing major-on-minor lines. Trembling, true to its title, is even more anxious with its rapidfire tabla intro, the band exchanging variations on its apprehensively rustling melody. The album winds up with a brief flute number that sounds like an Indian Baul minstrel dance. The band doesn’t seem to have a web presence of their own, but you can check out the album at Palmetto Records‘ site: it’s also up at most of the usual places you’d expect to find stuff like this.