One of the best in my collection
David Macejka’s CD Sookh Tan is an amazing example of excellent musicians working together to create a piece of art. No one musician takes center stage for more than his spotlight piece, and then each quietly rejoins the group for a harmonized effort. The effect is one of egoless perfection. My first impression was how much the CD reminded me of Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s work on Firedance and Crescent Moon. I would still use that comparison in a simplified review, but Macejka’s work on Sookh Tan is somehow more soulful in its spare use of instruments—there is no synthesizer in sight here, and rarely more than two instruments play at a time.
Jaanaa: The first track of the CD opens with Eric Zang’s ney, like Tekbilek’s Firedance, but a detailed comparison stops there. Macejka starts off with a medium-slow beat—an excellent introduction to the general mood of the CD. Zang’s instrumentation provides interest, but he doesn’t pull focus away from the rhythm. The lively, rambling melody line accentuates the steady, trance-like beat in a wonderful cooperative effort.
Samaa: Saman Mahmoudi’s vocals come in so subtly, they almost pass for instrumentation, building in intensity and modulation to the near-yodel so prevalent in Eastern music. If you aren’t accustomed to such vocal stylings, this might put you off a bit. But to those of us who know and love Middle Eastern and Indian singing, Mahmoudi’s vocal flexibility is an amazing, beautiful thing.
Ravandeh: The sarod, played by Stephen James, takes center stage for this track. James plays with a very precise hand, using the glides between notes sparingly. The result is a distinct tone that, while not resulting in a melody one could hum along with, nevertheless holds the listener’s attention. He shows his skill by avoiding overly florid, showy pieces and focusing on pure, perfect tone.
Zaagh: The fourth song of the CD breaks the peacefully meditative mood set by the previous three songs. James’ sarod goes from soothing to plaintive as he employs more glissando (meend). Macejka’s drumming comes in just before the instrument becomes overwhelmingly melodramatic and the mood returns to something lighter, but still intense.
Jooyandeye Eshgh: Mahmoudi returns again, only this time on the santur. His glorious trills on the instrument echo his vocal style. They are clean, distinct, and quite impressive. He carries the entire song alone. As a dancer, I usually wait somewhat impatiently for the “real part” of the song (the part with drums) to kick in. Mahmoudi does an excellent job of holding the listener’s attention, even one as rhythm-bound as myself.
Cheshmee: Mahmoudi does double duty with vocals and santur on this one. Macejka brings in the drums with perfect timing and the two exchange focus for the duration of the song. The santur rises and fades while the drums come to the forefront for a few beats before Mahmoudi’s voice calls out again. This track is possibly the most impressively collaborative piece on the CD for its perfect timing and seemingly improvised call-and-response.
Dar Eshgh: This is the only track that features Utku Dagkiran on saz and vocals. He joins Mahmoudi in an amazing duo. Their voices, equally rich, blend beautifully. Zang returns on ney, but plays a supporting role to the saz and vocals. The mood of the song goes from light and almost playful strumming on the saz to a haunting, intense vocal and rhythmic finish.
As I finish this review, I’m amazed (and a little embarrassed) to realize how little I’ve mentioned Macejka’s drumming, which appears on all tracks except track 5. His steady, deceptively simple playing is absolutely vital to every song in which it appears—and it perfectly compliments what is being played. The result is an example of what many drummers will never comprehend, much less achieve: Sometimes mastery is shown by quietly supporting the other instruments, not by breaking out in an overwhelming drum solo.
Sookh Tan is one of the best Middle Eastern fusion CDs to be produced in a very long time. It would take a special dancer to perform to any of these songs—and perhaps an even more special audience. I would not use these songs for general public performances. However, it provides a beautiful background for yoga, meditation, warm-ups, cool-downs, and other quietly intense exercises. It would be perfect for a Gabrielle Roth-style meditative dance. I am absolutely thrilled to add it to my musical life.