Noshir Mody ‘An Idealist’s Handbook: Identity, Love and Hope in America 2020’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Noshir Mody is a self-taught guitarist who was born and raised in Bombay, India. Having moved to New York when he was 22, he has, over the last 25 years developed into a consummate guitarist and composer, leading his EthniFusion rock and jazz ensembles and regularly performing with his trio in clubs. This album is a set of thought-provoking, compelling and highly entertaining originals that feature Campbell Charsee on piano, Yuka Tadano on bass, Jarrett Walser on drums, Mike Mullan on saxophones, Benjamin Hankle on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Kate Victor on vocals.

Mody’s music on this release is difficult to categorise. In many respects, it is essentially a jazz-rock fusion album, but there are so many strings to the composer’s bow, it would be doing him an injustice to simply call it ‘fusion’. As an overall vibe to the style of writing and performing, I would actually reference trumpeter Christian Scott, specifically his two incredible albums “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” and “Christian Atunde Adjuah”. Mody’s music shares a similar feel to these albums, with the tunes telling a poignant story, building with tension, and releasing an outpouring of emotion. Then there are the wonderfully crafted melodies and powerful arrangements… and as odd as this might sound, if you were to imagine the rock/pop band Tears For Fears making a jazz album, it’s not that far off the scale to think that it might sound something like this. On top of that, there are some stand-out performances throughout this recording, not least from the Lyle Mays sounding pianist, and of course the guitarist himself.

It’s the strength of the tunes and the arrangements that make this album so compelling and listenable. It’s not without its little niggles, but the uniqueness and verve of it all carries it though in mouthwatering style. There are positives and negatives to everything in life, and one could argue that this album has both. For example, whilst I love the fact that four of the tracks are stripped down “sketches, or illustrations” of the final tunes, offering for the main part some exquisite acoustic guitar work from Mody, with another tune reprised at the end of the album, that means there are actually only five compositions on the whole recording. And as intoxicating and dare I say, magnificent as those tunes are, it could leave listeners feeling a little shortchanged. And while I’m at it, I would also say that some of the placement of the instruments in the mix is a little odd… there are times where the saxophonist sounds like he’s half way down the street somewhere compared to the rest of the band. But I can, of course, forgive these minor indiscretions because the music on this album is just so incredibly fresh, vibrant and charmingly incandescent.

“Radha” opens this intriguing work with a tribute to an immortal and traditional love story from India. As with all of this album, the music is beguiling, thoughtful and inventive. One of the things I love about the whole recording is the use of sax and trumpet to support the solos and add texture and depth as the tunes develop. Having the two horns intertwine, solo, blend and blow freely in and around the music is a masterstroke. “Illusions Grow” (preceded by its acoustic sketch) features the first vocal performance from Kate Victor. Whilst not perfect, her voice has a purity and clarity to it that reminds me a little of Norah Jones. Featuring the composer’s first lyrics for 20 years, it’s a moving and relevant piece, based on what advice he might give to his younger self, something that resonates deep within me. Wonderful piano builds the tune before Mody takes on a sensitive solo, with those wonderful horns adding texture and colour to the piece. “Ol Splitfoot” is a stunning tour de force of a tune. Its initial sketch leads perfectly into the tune itself. This emotive piece gradually builds with style and substance, managing to balance the highs and lows of life’s emotions through some mesmerising chordal passages into a breathtaking atmosphere of light and dark, cascading horns and powerful guitar, bass and drums. Its crescendo of sound eventually gives way to a quiet, reflective reverence. The beautiful sparseness of “Illustrating Rise” is followed by the brilliant “Under A Starlit Sky”. Gorgeous chord changes and lovely piano combine with sax and trumpet to create a hybrid uplifting melancholia that takes me to a place where the music fills my heart with joy and completeness. The wonderful vocal-led “Rise” with its triumphant singing, allows time for the final piece, the excellent “Illusions Grow (Reprise)”. Stunning music from Noshir Mody that has me truly hooked.

Mike Gates