Nima Collective - Songs of Strange Delight
review by Greg Howard
Nima Rezai - Grand Stick, AcouStick, santour, Stick-controlled synths, electronic drums
Jesus Florido - violin, viper violin
Dan Heflin - flute, soprano and tenor sax
Christopher Garcia - drums, shaker, clay drum, tabla, djembe, kanjira, frame drum
Adam Darling - electric guitar, classical guitar, electronic drums
Delton Davis - cajon, shaker, triangle, chimes, bongos, vibes, Darabuka
Brad Ranola - Pocket pandiero, ribbon crash, surdo, talking drums
Houman Pourmehdi - Daf, Udu, bass drum
Harry Scorzo - violin
Milad Derakhshani - Taar
John Zeretzke - kamanche
Michael Alvarez - cello
Kevin Goode- piano
Randin Graves - koto, guitar, ebow, didjeridu
Nima Collective is the new project from Bay Area Stickist and composer Nima Rezai.
Nima has expanded his Merge quartet into a full-blown world music orchestral ensemble, supplementing the core sound of Stick, drums, violin and saxophone with Persian string instruments (taar, santour and kamanche) koto, didjeridoo, and unusual percussion instruments like the Udu drum and darabuka, as well as synthesizers and electronic drums. With such a broad array of sound and musical traditions to draw from Nima collective spans not only the globe but also the centuries.
The orchestrations are deep. Each new listen reveals new sonic layers sounds. On some tracks, like the opener "Division", the mood shifts dramatically even with steady pulse — from mystical soundscape to ancient, percussion groove, through a contemporary World Beat melody and then into an "electronica" interlude, all in the space of five minutes.
Their version of what is arguably the first "world music" pop recording, the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", takes its time, languidly laying the familiar melody over an "orchestra" of exotic acoustic and electric strings. Nima sounds out his roots on "Persia", with a majestic melody and an epic cadence that sounds like it could be have been played in Cyrus's court. The AcouStick prototype even makes a brief and powerful appearance at the center of "Memory On", which recalls John McLaughlin's foray into Indian music with the band Shakti.
Nima is a generous band-leader, letting violinist Jesus Florido and saxaphonist Dan Heflin assume many of the melodic and solo roles, but when it's his turn, as on the original "Three Steps", he lets loose with a dramatic and daring lead. He's just as adept at weaving his clean ACTV-2 equipped Grand Stick's tone among the edgier acoustic instruments, or laying down a delicious synth pad under his two colorful soloists.
VIDEO MONTAGE OF SELECTED TRACKS
There's a fresh interpretation of Sting's "Fragile" with Florido getting down into the deepest range of the violin for some soulful soloing. Fans of Bob Culbertson will recognize "Float", a tune he co-wrote with Rezai and Heflin, and there are some really catchy original melodies as well. The climactic Hendrix "Little Wing/Machine Gun" medley is perfectly answered by the coda track, "Take Me Down", with it's casual elecronic backing track and moving on melody.
Each track highlights the Collective's skill as arrangers, as well as Nima and Toby Rosen's excellent production. And while each cut is very complete in its own right, taken as a whole Songs of Strange Delight is really a pleasure to listen to, again and again.
All Weather Music Festival- Belgium
8 November 2003
When you book a group for your music festival, relying only on a demo, you take chances. It's usually safer to go to a live performance to assess musical skills….
Yet, in the case of the Californian group "Nima & Merge" I did just that. I booked them, after listening to a demo, and I have not regretted this decision. Their demo was so filled with enthusiasm and professional skills, that I didn't hesitate a second to book them for the sixth edition of the "All Weather Music festival". Then I received a confirmation from a jazz fan from Julich in Germany, who had heard the group perform at the local festival.
Merge offers a mix (merge!) of jazz, rock, ethnic music and performs with such passion that they give you the impression that each concert is their last chance to prove their value.
No impression could be more wrong. The members of the band make an excellent team and they perform on a professional level.
The instruments match the variety in their music: The Chapman Stick, the soprano and tenor sax, and the drums.
The idea behind the Chapman Stick is that you play the guitar and the bass simultaneously. In my opinion, you must at least be positive and eccentric to play this instrument. But Nima Rezai, Merge's Chapman Stick player, only needed half a song to capture the audience with his virtuosity and originality. Saxophonist Dan Heflin played both the soprano and tenor sax with such lyricism and timbre that the audience focussed and listened. His gift for improvising almost chained the listeners to the stage. Brad Ranola, the drummer of the group, plays with amazing 'drive'; he is powerful, rhythmic, and musical. Power, power, power!
These Americans were the revelation of All Weather Music 2003. They were friendly, professional and (important!) " down to earth".
All weather Music
Sea of Tranquility review
Blending world music with jazz and progressive rock, Nima Collective bring together ideas, styles and instruments which wouldn't normally be found together, with didgeridoo, taar, santour and kamanche sitting comfortably alongside drums, violin, saxophone and the "stick" of band leader Nima Rezai.
It is Nima's precision stick work that leads much of what is on offer during this excellent voyage through eclectic, meandering moods and vibes called Songs Of Strange Delight. However the ethnic instrumentation is never swamped, or for that matter, added for effect, with the beautifully poised opening track "Division" setting the scene perfectly for the rest of the album. Didgeridoo heralds the song into life, before violin and hand percussion take on the mantle of moving forward the plaintive, but captivating story that the instrumental music relays. The intricate orchestration which becomes the signature of this album is always busy, while never being too clever for its own good and it is easy to imagine devotees of world music fully appreciating this aspect of the album, while the more adventurous jazz fan, or progressive music follower will be startled by the skill, dexterity and insight shown in this music.
Wonderful moments like the pulsating "Fragile", or the singing, electro-beat driven "Take Me Down" are compelling both in their ability to intertwine styles and moods, and the ease in which they draw you in to their complex, yet accessible themes. The trick isn't quite so successful on the version of The Beatles "Norwegian Wood", which ever so slightly tumbles into twee territory, although the version of the Hendrix classics "Little Wing/Machine Gun" is one of the most moving pieces on the whole album. That said the thumping beat and singing mixture of stick, saxophone and xylophone of "In Time" is simply stunning, being not only the outstanding highlight of this album, but one of the most beautiful, moving pieces of music your liable to be lucky enough to encounter.
For anyone looking to broaden their horizons into world music, then Songs Of Strange Delight comes highly recommended and for sheer beauty, clarity and eclecticism this is an album of rare class and poise.
First impressions of the music is that of an exotic dish never been tasted before. The music is diverse sounding and full of many different flavors: folk, jazz, pop, heavy rock, far eastern, middle eastern and other world elements. The music borrows influences from the major pioneers of fusion, like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, Eleventh House, Jean-Luc Ponty and Weather Report.
The band’ s essence and identity is traced to the Chapman Stick and it’ s virtuoso Nima Rezai. The Chapman Stick is the core of their sound. It is what separates them from their many influences and allows them to retain an original sound and own voice. The Australian Aboriginal instrument didjeridu makes some strong spots as well. The didjeridu, a drone instrument, is used to this affect in favor of synth chords that are common in fusion. The didjeridu comps melodic lines and solo spots by Chapman Stick, sax, flute, guitar or fiddle. What a sound!
The band easily navigates through their complex and original brand of music. They have the dynamic range to easily shift between the powerful and the delicate places of music. Their excellent chemistry dates back to their school days, when they started playing together.
Nima & Merge are onto something unique and original. With the Chapman Stick playing a prominent role and the didjeridu also making a strong impact, Nima & Merge represents new music from other worlds. Just take a look at their cover art and album title. Nima & Merge can potentially push the Chapman Stick instrument, and quite possibly the didjeridu also, into the mainstream. Separate Worlds is a very impressive and unique set of music, highly recommended if not essential for fans of and Chapman Stick players. Fusionados and prog-rockers will want to give this disc a whirl as well. All of Nima & Merge’ s music is available at iTunes.