All About Jazz - D. Bilawsky

Rajiv Jayaweera, "Pistils"

While London-born, Melbourne-reared, New York-based drummer Rajiv Jayaweera's work is naturally colored by his experiences spanning those points on the map, it's his Sri Lankan heritage that most greatly informs and influences this debut. Drawing inspiration from memories of nature, sounds and scents surrounding his grandparents' garden there, Jayaweera creates a musical sanctuary and wonderland painted in vivid colors.

Pistils, a title referencing the seed-bearing, reproductive portion of a flower, plays on blooming beauty at its first glances and in its final form. Opening and closing with different versions of the title track—the former featuring guest vocalist Lara Bello's enchantments, the latter saxophonist Chris Cheek's mellifluous lines—Jayaweera uses rubato fantasies to bookend his vision. The tracks between the "Pistils" prove just as meaningful and fascinating in their unfolding of grace. "Ellstandissa," starting on a solo performance of the Thammattama drum(s) and working with a more direct rhythmic thrust, deals with cycling melodic ideals and dancing time. "Welikadawatte," nodding to a region in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Jayaweera's grandparents lived for four decades, rides on a Vernel Fournier-esque groove and a sweeping current. "Galadari," a gorgeously dizzying latticework, proves to be a showcase for serious solo work. And "Nilus," with its slow, stately stride, speaks in measured yet decorative language.

Jayaweera's creative gifts with pen and sticks are apparent over the course of the first half of the album, but so, too, are his gifts in personnel selection. With Cheek, pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Hugh Stuckey and bassist Sam Anning filling out the ranks, the drummer is never short on unique and pliant personalities. The remaining material simply furthers that fact. There's "The Elephant," evoking images of a pachyderm making its way across the jungle; "Hirimbura," a swinging geographical beacon pointing to Jayaweera's grandfather's hometown; and "Malkoha Bird," which finds Cheek moving to soprano to best reflect the song and shining spirit of one of Sri Lanka's feathered friends.

While drummer-composers often feel a need to make their mark through a show of force, Jayaweera takes a more fanciful approach. Preferring blossoming expressions over bombast, he separates himself from the pack with Pistils.

Dan Bilawsky