Pianist Avishai Darash strikes again with a very beautiful, and intensely personal album, which only attests to how much of a complete and versatile musician he is. Samskara, his latest project released on A.MA Edizioni label, is an emotive and inspirational collection of eleven songs that will leave the listeners wanting more.
As with his previous album, Nomadic Treasures, he is paired with his usual band members, namely Daniele Cappucci on double bass and Joan Terol Amigò on drums. This time around, singer Karima El Fillali, as well as Abderrahim Semlali on violin and Haytham Safia on oud, joined in on the album, adding colourful layers to the release.
Throughout the album, Darash explores the multiple musical influences that make up his musicality and offers us a musical journey that meanders from the romantic ‘About Her’, to the perky Joy or even the sensual New Vision; a journey that leaves us, at the end of the album, with our very own samskaras.
The album opens strongly with the powerful multi-genres ‘Jajouka’ which immediately propels you into desert sounds. The song turns into a trance-like, spirited dance which is heightened by Darash’s rippling piano and Karima El Fillali’s evocative vocals.
With the sensitive ‘About Her’, listeners immediately grasp how personal the tune is and that Darash composed it with someone particular in mind. Cappucci’s plaintive double bass puts you in the mood before the piano leads the melody like a tide, illustrating the range of emotions one experiences in a love story. With a completely different resonance, ‘About Him’ is performed by Darash’s strongly-knit jazz trio. Sounding as the continuation of the narration depicted in ‘About Her’, the tune offers such a contrast to its moods and pace and yet, both songs appear as an inseparable pair, alternatively symbolizing feminine and masculine energy.
‘New Vision’ is an extremely sensual tune, replete with sexual innuendos. The dialogue between the piano and the oud is full of seduction and I particularly like Semlali’s violin solo which adds an Arabic touch to this otherwise Latin-hued melody and reminds us of the pain that comes with love and the magnetic pull of attraction. The whole arrangement is beautiful with nothing to be added or removed.
The cheerful ‘Joy’ is a delight to listen to. Listeners who are familiar with Darash’s playing will immediately recognize his fluid and freestyle that can get carried away by the melody and yet always in perfect symbiosis with it. In this tune, he implants extra rhythm at the beginning, allowing Karima El Fillali’s voice to dance above and in between the melody, feeling every nuance of the music, before he accompanies her on cleaner, quieter lines. Darash’s playing is so natural and mesmerizing. He is as excellent with melody as with rhythm; he has a brilliant command of tempos and structure without ever skimping on emotion. This is most apparent on the lyrical ‘Lullaby for Bendavid’, which appeared on his album Impermanence.
While ‘Samskara’ has a repetitive refrain to it, which ends abruptly, Darash’s loyal trio returns on ‘Purusha’, a smooth jazz piece where each instrument clearly displays its individuality.
‘Like Butter in the Sun’ is full of sparkle. Its catchy phrases and rhythm make us want to play it over again and again. El Fillali’s clean, luscious, breathy, slightly bluesy vocals add a funky vibe to the groove and are a perfect adornment to Darash’s playful piano.
‘Ten Sephiroth’ had to be the closing song on the album. Even with its expressive oud solo, the piece remains primarily jazzy, a genre Darash excels in. His short solo is what makes it my favourite piece. To me, ‘Ten Sephiroth’ summarises what the album is all about – a collective spirit where Eastern and Western music intermingles freely and leave us with the impression that no boundaries whatsoever truly exist. ‘Ten Sephiroth’ is the journey and the destination all at once.
Avishai Darash, once again, offers us a tremendous creative act. He is an astonishing musician and composer. The playing is responsive, emotive. An album laced with various moods and textures, Samskara is the result of a true creator, whose compositions allow us to catch the depth of the collective as well as the individuality of its musicians.