Music and spirituality fused beautifully in the life and expression of Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), the globally influential Indian spiritual leader, author, poet and musician who once counted among his grateful followers Carlos Santana, Roberta Flack, John McLaughlin, Narada Michael Walden and Clarence Clemons.
Though stylistically eclectic, globally conscious veteran vocalist Laila Faerman – 2022 winner of the Grand Prix International Creative Arts Festival’s jazz vocal category = only began immersing in the guru’s vast teachings long after those musical legends (2011, to be exact), her passion for exploring not just Chinmoy’s spirituality but grand musical catalog has led over the past decade to many prominent international performances and a tour with “Concerts for Peace” that included shows in the Czech Republic, Italy and Bulgaria.
On Awake! Arise! Songs of Sri Chinmoy, her soulful ethereal, dare we say mystical voice is perfectly suited to express the alternately relaxing and soaring music of Chinmoy leading a similarly “in-tune” jazz ensemble of musicians who are greats in their own right, many of whom were also guided at one point or another by the project’s beloved inspiration. These include Grammy nominated Russian keyboardist Misha Tsiganov, soprano saxophonist and flutist Premik Russell Tubbs, cellist Shamita Achenbach-Konig, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens.
Fashioning intuitive, lyrical and meditational jazz impressions of famed pieces ranging from “Mantras” and “Ranjana Nadi Tire” to “Do Not Cry,” “Beloved Supreme” and the title track “Awake! Arise!,” the project is not only a towering musical achievement but a technical one as well because most of the intricate recording was created at a distance because of Covid-era protocols. In her compelling liner notes, Faerman illuminates the spiritual-emotional essence of the project via a unique illustration that shows just how Chinmoy seems to have checked in on and guided the process from beyond.
While immersed in creating his lovingly crafted arrangements, Tsiganov says he saw the leader in a vivid dream. Chinmoy listened as the pianist played and started playing the melody, with Tsiganov’s accompaniment. Irked at a dissonant modern jazz chord, Chinmoy at one point stopped and said, “This is the wrong chord!” The pianist replied, “No, Guru, I will show you that in modern jazz, you can do that. He then showed him techniques of jazz reharmonization and Chinmoy was on board. He put his hands on Tsiganov’s head and blessed him. The whole album serves to channel the guru’s peace, teachings and musical muse in a dreamlike way that pays homage and carries his spirit forward.