Music Review: Saffron Ensemble

By Samir Shukla


Saffron Ensemble
Will You
(Tames Records)

Ours is a rapidly shrinking world. Cultures, ethnicity, foods, travel, and myriad languages are intermingling as never before in human history. This, of course, also has an effect on the most universal language of all, music.

The recording Will You is a subtle exploration of Hindustani music with a touch of jazz performed by multiple-genre musicians. The Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi sings and speaks works of 13th-century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi while the Saffron Ensemble, sitar player Shujaat Khan, saxophonist Tim Ries, pianist Kevin Hays, and tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee, envelope her voice in surreal sounds. Together, they have created new musical backdrops for the poet's words.

She sings the words in a manner that connects with listeners, even those who don't know Persian. I wonder if she had spoken the words of each song in English prior to the ensuing track, sort of a prelude, the words would relate more to a non-native speaker, elevated further by the music. But I understand that much is lost in translation, so maybe just imagining what the words mean, and she does a wonderful job emoting them, along with the superb music, the meaning just seeps into the psyche.

The friendship and camaraderie of this singer and musicians are clear in the natural aura of the recordings where many voices walk together.

Rumi is among the most influential Sufi poets, his works now translated across the globe. The Saffron Ensemble and Goudarzi have made a sublime and hypnotic recording that will inspire listeners to find the poet's work and read it.

I know I'm among those looking to further read his works. In a sense, I have a readymade soundtrack in this recording.