In 2018, Iranian-Australian group, Eishan Ensemble, released their debut album, Nim Dong, to critical acclaim. Fans of the record hailed it for its unique and seamless fusion of classical Persian and Western contemporary sounds, which found a sweet spot between the two. For their second album, Afternoon Tea at Six, the band ventures deeper, as founder of the project, Hamed Sadeghi, explains.
“The record tells seven stories,” explains Sadeghi. “We drank a cup of Persian black tea before every rehearsal and tried to narrate the stories with a different texture. The idea of writing this album was to create a strong foundation where guest musicians can join and easily blend in. We all have our sections where we improvise while everyone else is all ears listening in the background.”
Released on Australian label, Art as Catharsis, the seven-track record shines most when Sadeghi and co. work Persian sounds and instrumentation into contemporary, western jazz arrangements, with track number two, ‘Streets’, being the prime example. Other highlights include the contributions of vocalist, Sonya Holowell, who lends her rich, earthy voice to ‘Signs’ and the title track ‘Afternoon at Six’. There are no lyrics or words to speak of, though, and Holowell’s vocals are almost used as another layer of instrumentation. In ‘Signs’, her vocals drive the track, bringing together the strings and marching percussion. In the tar-led ‘Afternoon at Six’, meanwhile, the song breaks halfway through, leaving her to deliver a sort-of celestial siren.
Tracks such as ‘Black and White’, ‘Future #2’ and ‘Win’ find a drama and, at times, urgency in the combination of string instruments and saxophone, while closing track, ‘Sins’ leans heavily into the kind of ‘smooth jazz’ that incorporated easy-listening pop and R&B in the eighties.
While debut album, Nim Dong, was painted in a much earthier, bluegrass-inspired sound, Afternoon Tea at Six, is more refined in terms of fusing its very diverse inspirations. The real achievement here, however, is the precise and intricate balance that album strikes, with each track unique and individual in texture, character and mood.
Afternoon Tea at Six is available for purchase on Bandcamp.