Eishan is an Australia-based Persian jazz ensemble, the realized dream of Iranian composer and musician Hamed Sadeghi. In this ensemble, Sadeghi wields the Persian stringed instrument tar as his main weapon, bolstered by guitar, clarinet, saxophone, double bass, and percussion, including the Persian daf and tombak. They draw influence from different musicians of Oriental mastery who experiment with jazz and other Western styles, such as Anouar Brahem, Kayhan Kalhour and Ravi Shankar.
The idea of this project formed when Sadeghi moved to Australia. Beyond his discipline in Iranian classical music, he studied Western classical music and different methods of composition, and after finding similarities between Oriental music and jazz, he endeavored to make a bridge between East and West. "I recorded some drafts first and tried them with different instruments, talked to many musicians and experimented tar with different styles. I finally came up with the configuration of what it is now."
The execution of this concept, merging Oriental music and instruments with Western styles, is often botched, leaving a product that is deeply flawed and problematic. Often, this means that the music sounds superficial, because "fusion" all too regularly signifies that the musicians didn't take the time to actually go inside the other music, and find how their styles can dance and bloom within that; the botched version feels like the easiest route, stuck haphazardly together.
This is not the case with Nim Dong, the debut album by Eishan Ensemble. Sadeghi has led his group well, and the amalgamation of instruments doesn't bring to mind the glaring mish-mash that comes of many "fusion" projects. "I do believe that fusing won't be properly done unless musicians get to know each other well and also have deep understanding of what they are doing," says Sadeghi. "Musical instruments are only tools with some restrictions, but musicians can cross borders and introduce something new." He chose his band consciously, "aware of the potential of the musicians playing with me and sure that what I write they can play."
As this suggests, Sadeghi writes the music, conducting his band. That said, his hand isn't too heavy, claiming to be very open to new ideas and any modifications. But his process isn't a formula: "I learned my own way of composing music for tar and other Western instruments. I found common ground and many similarities," he says, "every piece in Nim Dong is written in a different way - a mix of simplicity and complexity."
A mix of simplicity and complexity is exactly what this album exemplifies. "I also learned that the most useful and natural tool for composition is just the human ear, and how paying attention to details can make a big difference." The music is cohesive, and at once both fresh and rooted in tradition. The tar stands out like a bright red poppy, giving an explosion of color to the verdant sea of green and blue supporting it. The double bass gives a robust roundness and stability to the music, often sweeping in with deeply-moving bowed notes.
This is particularly notable on the second track, "Solo Tar and Double Bass", which, exactly as titled, is a solemn and deeply beautiful duet. It is the long respiration after the adrenaline filled opening track "Nim Dong", which wastes no time in launching into a high-speed face-melter.
"Future" is a loping, hypnotic piece that rides on a repetitive, almost drone-like guitar line and machine-gun daf. The other compositions are beautifully orchestrated, tar trading melody with the clarinet, supported by the warmth and structure of the other instruments. The album finishes off with "Regret", a beautifully melancholy waltz. It ties off an album that meanders through places of high energy and hope, with a piece of deep introspection.
This is fitting and symbolic, as a large influence in creating this music is Sadeghi's feeling of estrangement from his home country, and coming to terms with the liminal space of identity that immigrants and ex-pats inhabit. "I left Iran when I was 26, and after nine years of living away from home, I feel a bit lost in terms of identity - I don't know where I belong to." Anyone who has experienced moving abroad knows the deeply confusing landscape of emotions that come with it, from excitement and re-birth to loneliness and the feeling of being hopelessly distanced from everything. "I take this loss of identity as a good thing, as it informs me that there are no borders. People belong to their feelings, not a specific place. That's why I can't label my music. It is just the result of experimenting with new feelings in this period of my life."