In a Blue Mood

Rajiv Jayaweera - Pistils

"Pistils" is the debut album by Sri Lankan/Australian jazz drummer and composer, Rajiv Jayaweera. The album features eight original compositions by the New York-based Jayaweera that draw inspiration from Sri Lanka. Jayaweera, who plays drums, cymbals, thammattama, and caxixi, leads a band of Chris Cheek (soprano & tenor saxophones), Aaron Parks (piano), Hugh Stuckey (guitar), and Sam Anning (double bass). Lara Bello adds her voice as a special guest.

Two versions of the title track open and close this recording. The initial rendition of "Pistils" features Lara Bello's enchanting vocal set against a sparse setting. This composition illustrates Jayaweera's ability to compose beautiful melodies. "Ellstandissa," opens with the leader playing the relatively unknown Thammattama drum (also known as a temple drum), a two-headed traditional drum that is played with a pair of fascinating curly wooden sticks. It incorporates rhythms from a Sri Lankan dance entitled 'Gajaga Wannama' in 7/8 time. Again, we are given a memorable melody, which provides Cheek an opportunity to display his marvelous tone as well as the ensemble's intricate rhythmic interplay. Parks adds a choice piano solo here as well.

The next song, "Welikadawatte," translates to Welikada Gardens in Sinhalese. This title refers to an area in central Colombo (the commercial capital and largest city in Sri Lanka). Against the stately rhythm, it affords another opportunity for Cheek to display the warmth of his saxophone. At the same time, Stuckey accents with his chords, and the leader's deft drumming lightly pushes the performance along. Anning's bass hints at Ahmad Jamal's classic performance of "Poinciana." Cheek's tenor sax is at the fore of "Galadari" with an intriguing rhythm and bass riff along with some stop-time passages. Stuckey contributes a scintillating solo. The ballad "Nilus" is a scrumptious performance with Cheek playing with a sublime tone, while bassist Anning also solos strongly.

Jayaweera incorporates the Thammattama drum on the playful "The Elephant," with Parks playing in a bouncy fashion. There is a bluesy feel to "Hirimbura," which takes its title from Rajiv's Grandfather's hometown in the south of Sri Lanka, with Cheek's robust tenor at the forefront, with Parks adding a well-constructed solo as well. Cheek switches to soprano sax for "A Malkoha Bird," playing an appropriately flighty solo.

An instrumental version of the title track closes this recording with Cheek's sax set against Stuckey's lush chords. Jayaweera adds his rhythmic accents with a deft touch on the cymbals and the snare drum in an evocative performance. It caps an excellent recording of first-rate performances of memorable and engaging compositions.

Ron Weinstock