Whilst this writer enjoys the cold climate and the especially crisp air tonight, many others are wont to disagree. Many enough, in fact that the climate in shopping malls, restaurants, libraries and public transport is closer to the sandblasted climes of the Middle East than say, Melbourne.
The perfect opportunity to indulge your senses in a beautiful ethnojazz musical experience. Namely, this one. ‘Nim Dong’ by the Eishan Ensemble, an affair with the tar, that quintissential Middle-Eastern fretted instrument (you’ll know it the second you hear it), world percussion, double bass, clarinet and many other musical cameos. Composed by multi-instrumentalist Hamed Sadeghi, this is an album that flawlessly transports you to an exotic world thousands of miles away, holding your hand with a slightly familiar jazz sensibility without playing to musical tropes you’d expect from either genre.
Title track ‘Nim Dong’ blends the tar’s signature playful trilling and tremolo into stop/start harmonic riffs. Subtle double bass weaves into the fold amongst world percussion. Similar to label-mates Hashshashin there is a complex, multi-faceted polyrhythmic delivery here which gently balances thoughtfulness with relaxed desert charm. On the line home, this short album provokes imagery of being on the train to Morocco. One can almost smell the spices in the synesthesia. A jazzy clarinet solo blends effortlessly into duelling interplays without forsaking overall harmony. A clacking outro on guitar and clarinet invokes the imagery of a desert caravan in slow procession. A flamenco flair on the final chord progression gives the end a micro-dose of Latin American feel.
Next up, ‘Solo Tar and Double Bass’ does what it says on the tin. The spacious but sharp plucking of both Eastern and Western instruments quickly flit between minor and major in a space not occupied by Western instruments. The extra twanging echoes of sympathetic string vibration of the tar rolls easily into a more folky and complex solo. Quietness then soft/loud strum and tremolo dynamic. Twanging of strings gives air of authenticity, playing is the vehicle without need for processing slight deviations or mistakes. Introduction of the titular double bass provides warmth and subtlety, smoothing out edges by the trebly tar. The whole thing feels hot and draughty, dry and arid but in a carefree in-the-shade way.
Playing with harmonic counterpoints in ‘Future’ and bouncing off one another like kinetically charged particles, the subtle tremolo and chords mingles with some very simple flamenco as the drums pick up. Suddenly we are treated to tribal drumming patterns straight from any leaf of any ethnomusicologists’ guidebook. Rattling at blast-beat speed before joining the twanging soloist once more, the song approaches a frantic zenith.
There’s almost a sense of anxiety, now. Lines and riffs twirl teasingly, not promising anything in particular before once again drifting back in catchy sync with the rhythm section.
‘Behind the Window’ marries the ethno-jazz blend 50/50, juxtaposing an almost Jewish-polka-styled clarinet solo, breaking above subtle bass rhythm, twisting and turning and mostly focusing on dividing playful contrasts against Eastern and Western instruments. The dulcet tones of the clarinet weave amongst the shrill bounciness of the tar with a gradually climbing apex.
‘Timelessness’ starts with an almost oriental twanging of tar against simple guitar and walking double bass. Alongside the smooth sax, it gives off an Asian noir feel that is smooth and otherworldly. The jazziest of all the tracks here, this piece feels more of a relaxing stopgap interlude between the complex and intricte tracks surrounding it.
‘Doubt’ Starting with reserved and minor tones, the instruments begin with a softer and more solemn consistent pace here, like a caravan pressed to push through the desert to avoid the oncoming sandstorm. Guitar and tar tremolos play off one another in a multi-instrumental rhythm, accompanied by the soft and sweet tones of the clarinet. These lilting lines contrast with those sharp and stark stringed tones of the tar, which moves into a muted backseat to give the former some airtime. Bluesy lines float above the gentle backing of other fretted instruments, plucking away quietly. Almost like happening upon a small oasis for a brief rest.
Accented guitar chords and a rise in the clarinet see a return to that frantic but melodic soloing of the tar. This instrument is one that seems to transpose any riff into a mysterious and open space, despite the clear pings and twangs at speed. Threatening to pull the trigger but never quite doing so, the lack of release is softened somewhat by the warm double bass.
Finale ‘Regret’ begins with a titular sad tone, morose guitar plucking and pensive clarinet. Even the Eastern instruments here have taken a slower and more sullen tone. Intermittent tremolo from the tar doesn’t detract from the thoughtful and sad tones of the song, demonstrating that both cultures complement each other at a variety of tempos to invoke a range of emotions. Guaranteed, you will feel a sense of bittersweet moroseness here, a humbling, haunting but also very beautiful segue. Gradually, the fretted instruments lead to quite a climactic crescendo as all instruments rise to frantic apex. the tail end of the song doesn’t introduce much different from the first half, but that’s ok – it’s an emotional and cerebral ending to a vast journey across a bluesy aural desert.
You can pre-order ‘Nom Ding’ HERE!