History’s greatest jazz recordings have always been those that meet the moment, using music and improvisation to reflect history, explore the issues and forge hope for a way forward. No jazz album in the first half of 2020 hits all these targets with greater precision than Indian born, NYC based veteran guitarist Noshir Mody, who is well known for leading his EthniFusion rock and jazz ensembles and performing with his trio.
The title of his multi-faceted new ensemble album An Idealist’s Handbook: Identity, Love and Hope in America 2020 may be a mouthful, but it puts us in an optimistic state so that we may see daylight after the dark, anxious, fearful and complacency shattering year. Its July 3 release date is perfect, as it’s a signal that we can divide the year into the crazy, discomfiting first half, and perhaps, with any luck, a slightly better and less chaotic second half.
Joined by a brilliant group that includes pianist Campbell Charshee, saxophonist Mike Mullan and (a true relevation of strength and emotional truth) vocalist Kate Victor, Mody leads us towards a better interior and external moment with a fascinating blend of musical storytelling, rousing high octane improvisations and “Rise,” a soaring, brass fired vocal anthem advocating for democracy, tolerance and common purpose. He sets the tone for the mood swinging to come with the atmospheric, grooving guitar-centric opener “Radha,” a musical interpretation of a famous Indian love tale.
Aside from compelling narratives and some of the year’s most ear popping solos by Charshee, Mullan and Mody himself, another unique element of the collection is allowing the listener to experience what seem to be “sketching” works in progress by introducing the lengthier excursions (“Ol’ Splitfoot,” “Under a Starlit Sky”) with sparsely arranged shorter pieces focusing on his melodic guitar.
Listening to this extraordinary album just as the second half of the year is about the begin, you may feel hopeful that we’re finally turning the corner.