Sahba Sizdahkhani - Ganj [Important Records - 2021]
Sahba Sizdahkhani is an improvisatory musician inspired by both Western free jazz and Persian classical music. Historically, he has mostly played the drum set. This album, Ganj is Sabha's first attempt at playing the santur, a 102 stringed trapezoidal dulcimer. As a result, the album is essentially a look at the sound of the instrument from a largely unskilled perspective.
Though I'm certain it was enjoyable for Sahba to experiment with this instrument, I'm not certain why he felt it was important to release his initial attempts at playing it, clunky and awkward as they would inevitably be. It isn't the most unformed sound I've heard; you can hear Sahba's brain working as he attempts to fashion melodies and atmospheric ebb and flow. To some degree, his extensive practice with improvisation on other instruments has carried over to the santur, as he tries to create arcs across time in which density gradually increases, clustered groups of notes coming and going, like leaves blowing in the wind.
Yet there is an undeniable clumsiness, a lack of exactitude. The instrument itself is woefully out of tune, which significantly hinders the album's functionality as relaxing ambience. The scope Sahba's melodic imagination is limited. A sort of vague, nostalgic melancholy is all he manages to bring forth, an emptiness of mind that naturally permeates the space created by the resonating strings. Yet, anyone who has played such an instrument has experienced this, and I can't attribute it to Sahba himself.
It would generally take a master of their instrument to create a full length LP of improvisation that stayed fresh and engaging. I can think of several modern jazz players who have accomplished this (Mats Gustaffson). However, to do this for one's first time playing an instrument is sure to result in tedium. This album, which only sounds increasingly undirected and vague as it goes, does nothing to change my mind about this approach. Sahba fails to compensate for his lack of precision with any other quality that could replace it, such as great emotional energy or ferocity. Each effort to build a figure or idea seems to trail off again into space, and the overall effect is that of 28 minutes of disconnected noodling.
According to the liner notes, Sahba went on to take extensive santur lessons after discovering his love of the instrument with this recording. I can't help but think I'd rather hear the result following his lessons than this amateur attempt. Sometimes moments of personal growth do not well translate into recorded experiences. If we were to hear the first played notes of even the most revered musicians, they would not likely be impressive. Structure and expression in one's playing is something that is slowly built with practice. I would recommend anyone have a solitary jam session of their own rather than listen to an unspecific, meandering album like this.Josh Landry