Project Masnavi is the anticipated third album from acclaimed Persian-jazz group, Eishan Ensemble. Inspired by the lyrical poetry of Rumi’s epic masterpiece, Masnavi - one of the most precious books in Persian literature, the album weaves beautiful imagery and stories reflective on Rumi’s work into layered soundscapes and sophisticated compositions. The album showcases the increasingly ambitious compositions of bandleader, composer and tar player, Iranian-born Hamed Sadeghi, alongside saxophonist Michael Avgenicos, guitarist Pedram Layegh, percussionist Adem Yilmaz, bassist Maximillian Alduca and special guests, accordion player Marcello Maio and drummer Alex Inman-Hislop.
Rumi has been the source of countless artistic interpretations. This project is unique in its nuanced exploration of the possibilities presented by Rumi. “Rumi’s quote, “the garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind,” resonated with me,” explains Sadeghi. “I felt compelled to explore it further. For Project Masnavi, I wanted to introduce new sounds and textures. Deep down I wanted to surprise and challenge myself musically just as COVID-19 surprised us all.” Sadeghi invited two leading emerging figures from the Sydney jazz scene to expand the sonic palette of the ensembl, accordionist Marcello Maio and drummer Alex Inman-Hislop.
Sadeghi reflects that the accordion instrument, in particular, had a dramatic effect on him: “The compression and expansion of the bellows reminded me of a heart beat. Also the flow, perhaps even the love element, as described by Rumi. Its reedy yet romantic sound brought a bitter-sweet feeling to the album, something that resonated with the melancholic state we were all feeling.” Also an instrument common in north-western Iran and Azeri folk music, the accordion provided feelings of nostalgia for Sadeghi. The combination of tar with accordion created sounds reminiscent of his home country, and a sense of homecoming. This juxtaposition of ancient with the contemporary is key to the ensemble’s modus operandi. The forging of new identities with the addition of saxophone, bass and drum kit has, in Sadeghi’s mind, has helped create their distinct musical identity - “This excites me!” Sadeghi claims.
Rumi’s poetry was a central inspiration for the album. “His poetry hits you at the core,” explains Sadeghi. “Rumi’s Masnavi is all about love and being free. A freedom we did not have during the lockdown (and still now). Our freedom is limited. Rumi’s words are simple and timeless. They can be universally understood. It is poetry for the people, not for the elite. It is accessible. It has the power to bring people together and I wish for my music to do that too.”
Like many other artists around the world, Sadeghi and Eishan Ensemble were forced to look for ways to remain active during the pandemic. Project Masnavi was born during the Sydney 2020 lockdown. “All our tours were cancelled but I wanted to continue to share our music with the wider world.” While working on the album, the group delivered a series of free online workshops, as part of a City of Sydney grant for aspiring musicians. “The world had come to a stop but I needed to stay creative and bring happiness to people’s lives through music.” The workshops allowed them to connect with others and provide a chance to present their compositional processes to up and coming musicians. Amateur and professional musicians attended a series of workshops, including a final session in the recording studio. “I explained my compositions and how I incorporate Persian Radif (traditional songs) and Western jazz influences into my music. Workshopping the ideas behind the new album whilst creating it, allowed me to push them even further.” The creation process was nurtured through feedback with the participants and the musicians themselves. “It was a truly magical process. We connected with a lot of new people and it helped us keep sane during a difficult time!”
Eishan Ensemble has been performing in various formations for the past six years, with long-term collaborators Michael Avgenicos, Adem Yilmaz, Pedram Layegh and Sadeghi part of the original lineup. Their debut album Nim Don, received critical acclaim and festival appearances across Australia, Taiwan and The Philippines. Their second album, Afternoon Tea at Six, premiered at the Sydney Festival in 2021, one of the fastest selling shows and a triumphant performance after months of lockdowns. Afternoon Tea at Six has since been programmed at Sydney Belvoir Theatre 2021 season.
Project Masnavi will premiere on May 14-15 at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Unwrapped program. Project Masnavi was supported by the City of Sydney.
released May 7, 2021
Hamed Sadeghi, Tar
Michael Avgenicos, Saxophone
Marcello Maio, Accordion
Maximillian Farrell Alduca, Double Bass
Alexander Inman-Hislop, Drums
Recorded November 2020, at A-Sharp Studios
Released on Earshift Music 2021
Compositions. Hamed Sadeghi
Mixed and mastering, Richard Lake
Album graphic designer, Javad Atashbari
Cover photo, Hossein Fatemi