Country : Pakistan Label : Verve Genres and styles : Folk / Jazz / South Asian Year : 2024

Arooj Aftab – Night Reign

· by Michel Labrecque

Could we talk here of Umami, music named after the fifth basic flavor, in food? I think we could describe Night Reign, by Arooj Aftab as tasty and complex. 

The Pakistani-turned-Brooklyn fourth a rlbum is more in the vein of Vulture Prince (2021), than Love in Exile (2023) in trio with pianist Vijay Iver and multi-instrumentalist Shazad Ismaily. We’re back in a more song-based format, with fewer long improvised pieces.

But once that’s said, Night Reign is full of musical nuggets, led by Arooj Aftab’s suave, complex voice, which plunges us into atmospheres that are sometimes luminous, sometimes darker, sometimes meditative. Alternating as subtly between traditional Pakistani influences and more Western tones, folk, jazz and a hint of pop.

Whiskey is certainly the closest we get to a pop song, evoking a night of too much love. We also hear a barely recognizable version of Autumn Leaves, the English-language version of Feuilles Mortes, composed by Joseph Kosma (original lyrics by Jacques Prévert) with percussion and double bass, followed by an improvised piano solo by James Francies.

Most of the songs, however, are sung in Urdu, the main language of Pakistan and Muslim population in India. Among others, we hear two texts by Mah Laqa Bai Chanda, the first female poet in the history of this country. The structure of the songs almost always leaves room for improvisation, offering a wealth of instrumental possibilities for our ears.

It has to be said: we hear some excellent musicians on Night Reign, who are totally at the service of Arooj Aftab, who composes and arranges almost everything. Gyan Riley and Kaki King on guitars, Linda May han Oh and Petros Kampanis on double basses, the formidable harpist Maeve Gilchrist, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Vijay Iver on piano. Among others. Alternatively.

I’ll say it again: it’s all tasty and complex. It’s to be savored like a fine wine, with the music passing through all our auditory taste buds. 

Arooj Aftab is only 39 years old. I can’t wait to see where she takes us next. Meanwhile, her tour to promote Night Reign doesn’t stop in Montreal, at least not for now. Let’s hope more dates are announced. 

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