All About Jazz - F. Kunzmann

Rajiv Jayaweera Pistils

Outside in Music, 2020

New York-based drummer Rajiv Jayaweera had quite the international upbringing. Born in London to Sri Lankan parents, Jayaweera grew up in Melbourne, where he completed his Bachelor of Music at the Victorian College of the Arts before finishing his Masters in Jazz studies in New York in 2013. In the liner notes of his debut album Pistils, Jayaweera explains that the album is dedicated to his grandparents and the music on it draws inspiration from his Sri Lankan roots and culture. The vastness of Sri Lanka's flora is among the country's main characteristics and the reason why flowers grace the cover of the record and why pistils, a flower's seed-bearing organ, is the album's name and twice-featured title track. Opposite to what might be expected from a drummer's debut album, Pistils reveals a delightful pool of reflections in which Jayaweera paints contours around melody-driven meditations that are enclosed by comforting changes. The drummer's understated and nuanced approach to his instrument is a rare thing in the drummer landscape and his sense for melody in composition all the more exceptional.

Jayaweera is joined by a number of household names. Chris Cheek on tenor and soprano and Aaron Parks, who belongs among today's most sought after sidemen on piano, join the Sri Lankan drummer with the addition of Hugh Stuckey's guitar highlighting the melodies and Sam Anning, who appears with Jayaweera on Carl Morgan's recent trio outing Laniakea (Earshift Records, 2020), adding the deep frequency grooves. Vocalist Lara Bello introduces the album as a guest on the title track, of which a different version reappears as a closer. The first vocal version of the track is a sparsely instrumented affair performed in rubato to dashing cymbals and playful melodic ornamentation accompanying Bello's fragile wordless musings. Rhythm arrives subtly but determinedly on "Ellstandissa," which builds on a downward moving phrase shared in unison between guitar and sax. The drums decide that the tune be counted in three after a couple of ambiguous minutes, but playfully reinvent themselves throughout the track, in accord with Parks' acrobatic harmonic sidesteps and lush chord spreads.

Swing, melodic motifs and solo excursions happen entirely naturally throughout a debut effort which breathes unexpectedly cool. Jayaweera doesn't feel the need to prove anything but tenderly accompany his sidemen, who's nimble contributions pour out of them with remarkable fluency. Still a rhythmical pulse often works as the driving force behind the band. "Welikadawette"'s laid-back dance six-time is a workout in cool jazz bound to a refined head, again introduced in unison by frets and keys, while "Galadari"'s uneven drive in eleven-time is skillfully subdivided in constantly alternating phrases of five and six. Other cuts follow suit.

Before long, "Pistils" returns to close the record on a quiet note, again performed in large rubato strides. This time around piano, bass and vocals aren't part of the equation, yet the elasticity shared between the trio of drums, guitar and sax is of similarly colorful breadth, ending this formidably tempered album on a humble, yet modestly virtuoso note. Jayaweera is not only a drummer to be reckoned with, but also an ace composer whose understated attitude and chops may deserve mentioning in the same breath with groove heavy-weights like Brian Blade before long.

Friedrich Kunzmann