Jaubi ‘Nafs at Peace’ LP/CD (Astigmatic) 5/5

Drawing on elements of North Indian classical music, modal/spiritual jazz and hip-hop, “Nafs at Peace” is the stunning debut album from Jaubi. Led by guitarist and composer Ali Riaz Baqar, the band includes Zohaib Hassan Khan – Sarangi, Qammar ‘Vicky’ Abbas – Drums, Kashif Ali Dhani – Tabla, Vocals, Tenderlonious – Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Latarnik – Fender Rhodes Mark II, Grand Piano, Yamaha PSR-550, Korg MS-20, Moog Voyager, Hohner Clavinet Pianet Duo, and The Vox Humana Chamber Choir – Vocals on ‘Seek Refuge’. The album was recorded at Riot Studios in Lahore, Pakistan, and Newtone Studios in Oslo, Norway.

Islam, the Qur’an and Pakistan are words that have, in many walks of life, been gradually associated with terrorism, barbarity and suppression for freedom of speech. It is this misrepresentative negative imagery that inspired Lahore based instrumental quartet JAUBI to change and purify. This search for purity eventually led them to discover the complex Qur’anic and philosophical concept of “Nafs”, which became the major conceptual driving force behind the all-new and original music. Nafs (سْفَن (is an Arabic word meaning “self” and has been translated as psyche, ego or soul. There are three levels of Nafs described in the Qur’an; (I) the soul inclined to evil, (II) the self-reproaching soul and (III) the tranquil soul. The album thus sonically and sequentially explores these three levels of the Nafs with “Nafs At Peace” representing the serene, contented, tranquil Nafs because the ego has been conquered and the soul has relinquished materialism and negativity.

The journey began when London flautist/saxophonist Tenderlonious (Ruby Rushton) and Polish pianist Marek Latarnik Pędziwiatr (EABS / Błoto), both amongst the torchbearers of the new European Jazz scene, visited JAUBI in Lahore, Pakistan during April 2019. The six musicians collectively poured their personal turmoil of experiencing death, divorce, unemployment, drug addiction and religious disaffiliation into the recording sessions that served as a spiritual path to transcendence and artistic purity. Nothing was written down. No song titles. No sheet music. Only six artists devoid of egos locked away in the studio, creating music for the sole purpose of reaching a higher spirit. The resulting music, from a listener’s perspective at least, is one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences my ears could hope to hear. Regardless of the inspiration behind the music itself, it’s clear to hear that it’s from the heart and soul of every performer involved, and it’s equally as affecting just listening to it, giving me a sense of joy and thankfulness as I listen.

The beautiful opener, “Seek Refuge” reminds me of Zakir Hussain’s timeless classic album “Making Music”. Featuring Hariprasad Chaurasia, Jan Garbarek and John McLaughlin, the divine nature of the music they performed is captured here, with its own exquisite sublimity. “Insia” releases its cosmic energy like a flower coming to life in the sunshine. Unhurried yet purposeful, the grooves take me on a journey that I really don’t want to end. “Raga Gujri Todi” begins in a hypnotic, haunting manner, before bursting into life with beats and rhythms to die for, classical yet modernistic, with a mesmeric depth of feel and pulsating energy. The softer, alluring sounds of “Straight Path” are warm and welcoming. An atmosphere of peace and kinship fills the air, musical colours and textures matching the multi-cultural society in which we live, with hope and renewed positivity. The deep groove and very cool vibe of “Mosty” flows like a dreamy summer’s day, glinting sunlight drifting in and out of a hazy late afternoon as I sit content with a clear mind and happy heart. “Zari” allows me to quietly contemplate, as my thoughts mirror the music in sending out loving-kindness and peaceful wishes to the whole world. The journey ends (and perhaps begins) with the title track, a spiritual awakening in the style of John Coltrane. Inquisitive and uplifting, as the music fades, I’m convinced I can now reach for the stars and beyond.

“Nafs at Peace” is quite simply an astonishing debut from Jaubi. It’s one of those rare albums that leaves me feeling exhilarated. Even after the music stops, I know it has somehow changed me, for the better. It has given to me, the musicians have given something of them to me, and for this, I will always be respectful and thankful.

Mike Gates