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CYMIN SAMAWATIE & CYMINOLOGY – PHOENIX / ECM 2397                       player

On their third album for ECM, German-Iranian singer Cymin Samawatie and her Berlin-based band Cyminology continue on their unique course, allowing the subtle melodies and rhythms of Persian poetry to influence their compositions and improvisation. The quality that JazzTimes has termed the “self-defining poetic logic” of their music is also informed by the players’ diverse cultural backgrounds and by experiences spanning a range of idioms. The core unit of Cymin, pianist Benedikt Jahnel, bassist Ralf Schwarz and drummer Ketan Bhatti is now joined, for the first time on record, by Martin Stegner, the violist who has been a frequent collaborator since 2011.  The viola, the string instrument perhaps closest to the human voice, becomes a kind of second singer here, extending the sense of cultural dialogue in the music.    

The album is dedicated to the memory of Forough Farrokhzaad (1935-1967), the outspoken Iranian modernist poet and film director, whose cry for personal freedom Cymin has celebrated also on the 2008 recording As Ney.  Samawatie returns to Farrokhzaad’s troubled love poems here, alongside her own lyrics, classic Sufi poetry by Hafiz (c. 1325-1390), and verse of Nima Yushij (1896-1960), who is often considered the father of contemporary Persian poetry.  Most of the music here is Samawatie’s, with Benedikt Jahnel, Ralf Schwarz and Ketan Bhatti contributing as co-composers on a few pieces.  

The album’s title derives from a poem by Yushij in which the Phoenix “collects lost lamentations /From ripped threads, hundreds of voices from the distance/In the clouds, like a dark line on the mountain/He builds up a dream castle.”  As Cymin told intercultural web portal qantara.de recently: "The image of the mystical bird that burns up and from whose ashes new things arise – that fits well with Cyminology. We are always searching for something new, something beautiful, and that means sometimes taking leave of things that have become dear to us."

Phoenix, like its predecessors (As Ney and Saburi) was produced by Manfred Eicher at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio.

Born to Iranian parents in Germany, Cymin Samawatie was raised bilingually and bi-culturally. She studied classical music in Hannover, focusing on percussion and piano, as well as jazz voice and composition in Berlin, where teachers included Jerry Granelli and David Friedman. She founded Cyminology in 2002.  Since 2010 she has also been collaborating with musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Martin Stegner, violist with the Berlin Philharmonic, has also participated in Diwan der Kontinente, the “world orchestra” established by Cymin and percussionist Ketan Bhatti. He has had a deep interest in jazz and improvisation since his youth and has investigated music of other cultures in his own projects. In 2008 he founded the chamber group Bolero Berlin to explore Latin American repertoire.

Born in France and raised in southern Germany, pianist Benedikt Jahnel studied Jazz at the University of Arts in Berlin and City College New York. He is also an ECM bandleader in his own right, recording the trio album Equilibrium in 2011 with Antonio Miguel and Owen Howard. He has played with many international jazz musicians including Phil Woods, Charlie Mariano, David Friedman, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Dave Liebman and John Abercrombie. 

Ralf Schwarz has collaborated with Cymin Samawatie in diverse projects for more than  twenty years. After playing first organ and then guitar he took up double bass and electric bass in 1999, and from 2000 studied at the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen. Since 2003 he has been based in Berlin. 

Born in New Delhi, India, Ketan Bhatti has been an active musician since his earliest youth. He studied jazz drums at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. Together with his brother Vivan he composes and produces music for theatre and opera. As a composer, he was awarded the Karl-Hofer-Preis for a concert for jazz and new electronic music performed together with Simon Stockhausen.  

In Cyminology’s video trailer for Phoenix Bhatti speaks about the band’s singular position between the genres: “Our music is somewhere in between jazz, world music and classical music and between cultures, Occident and Orient.  It is never simply one thing or the other, but somehow all and none of them at once.  Let’s say we are trying to forge a new musical identity that is not about referring to given structures but finding new structures and spaces that are always in between.”

Phoenix is issued as Samawatie and Cyminology embark on a series of club and concert dates throughout Germany. These include Munich Jazzclub Unterfahrt (February 21), Berlin Charlottenberg City Hall (February 26), Bad Hersfeld Alte Druckerei (March 19), Mannheim Zeughaus Museum (March 20), Karlsfeld Temple Cultural Center (March 21),  Greiz Jazzwerk Festival, Osnabück Cinema Arthouse (May 21), and Bremen Sendesaal (May 22).
On February 22, Cymin Samawatie, Ralf Schwarz and Martin Stegner also participate in a benefit for refugees, organised by Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker, at the Kamermusiksaal, Berlin.    

© Studio Svengali, June 2024
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