Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily – Love in Exile

· par Alain Brunet

Originally from Pakistan and transplanted to Brooklyn, the gifted composer and singer Arooj Aftab has developed a hybrid, updated and very personal art, certainly inspired by Sufi qawwalî sung in the Indian style and especially by ghazal, an oriental stytle evoking love, loss, melancholy but also a mystical quest for elevation. For almost 10 years, she has recorded the albums Bird Under Water (2014) Siren Islands (2018) and Vulture Prince (2021), here she is at the heart of a trio with the brilliant keyboardist, improviser and composer Vijay Iyer (of Indian origin but born in the USA) and the multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (of Pakistani origin), resulting in this excellent Love in Exile which has just been released.

One can guess that Arooj Aftab, like his excellent colleagues, has listened to the historic recordings of the fusion of jazz and Indian music by Miles Davis and all that followed in the field of this fusion between jazz and Indian classical music – listen first to Get Up With It (1972 team), the compilation Miles From India (2008), by Shakti at the end of the 70s (John McLaughlin, L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain, Vikku Vinayakram). Half a century later, these forms have continued to evolve in South Asia, but Indian and Pakistani musicians transplanted to the West have continued the process. Performed by Arooj Aftab in Urdu (the language of the Indian and Pakistani Muslims), this contagiously calm music is performed at very slow tempos.

The drone typical of Indian music is updated here by replacing the traditional harmonium by synthesizers and Fender Rhodes, which allows for circumspect improvisations by Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, not at all technical performance-oriented in this case. These layers of keyboards and synthetic frequencies thus enrich this minimalist and classical vocabulary of South Asia to which we juxtapose jazz and western classical harmonies. Moreover, this ambient approach offers a remarkable balance between electronic, instrumental and vocal music, which is still very difficult to achieve. To calm down, to breathe through the nose and to readjust one’s inner balance, here is a music that could not be more relevant.

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