‘Wings’, the second single from Gabriel Akhmad Marin’s Ruminate: Improvisations for Fretless Guitar and Dutar – a masterclass of improvisation drawing from traditions along the Silk Road.
As a co-founder of critically acclaimed jazz fusion act Consider The Source, renowned multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Akhmad Marin deftly delivers a new album of instrumental improvisations on ‘Ruminate.’ Listeners will be struck by the seemingly endless layers of melodic nuance while simultaneously lost in musical thought from hypnotic Sufi-inspired rhythms.
Recorded over the course of two evenings June, 2021 at Slamhouse Studio and the artist’s home in Queens, New York, ‘Ruminate’ amalgamates numerous Silk Road musical instruments and genres that are rooted in the traditions of distinct regional performance-practices yet infused with melodic phrasings and strumming techniques spanning across Eurasia.
In lieu of predetermined composition, the record is driven purely by improvisational technique. As a virtuoso of the fretless guitar, Marin manipulates modal effects that digitally mimic natural reeded woodwinds. As an ustod of two-stringed lutes, he proceeds to dazzle his audiences with strumming so sophisticated in its complexity and articulation that it raises the bar for all acoustic lutes: the minimally strung chordophone conversely creates a Babelesque “Wall of Sound” that never falls but merely fades, decaying until silent.
Performed live on the 2-stringed Kazakh dombra, a smaller cousin of the Uyghur or Uzbek dutar, the second single ‘Wings’ draws upon the shamanistic traditions of the Kazakh steppe with rhythms resembling the galloping of horses wildly across the vast grassland tracts. This zoomorphic recantation is reminiscent of traditional Kazakh kuiy traditions. Again, Marin here establishes the foundation of this instrumental across a singular musicscape while gradually layering complexity in technique and syncopation from myriad regional two-stringed chordophones native to neighboring Central Asian oases performance practices.
“I wanted the second single to be an acoustic track to show that side of the album,” continues Marin, “which is why I picked ‘Wings.’ This is on an instrument in the dutar family called the dombra, and my playing style is more based on the Uzbek and Uyghur dutar, so it’s a cool fusion. The fact that this is a 2-string instrument will be surprising to people, the amount of rhythm and variety of tones produced. This one really has the feel of the Central Asian steppes more than other pieces, it reminds me of horses or a hummingbird at times.”
Ruminate is musical journey that crisscross the breath of Eurasia, polyphonic airs hang like lofty Caucus peaks, abruptly shifting to shamanist strains from the Kazakh steppe; Persian inspired structures, peppered with Kurdish ornamentation, are equally juxtaposed with North Indian shaped refrains that naturally contour American Country and Western timbres. With additional musical “Easter Eggs” spanning from the Balkan peninsula of Central Europe to Badakhshan mountains of Central Asia, ‘Ruminate’ presents the listener with a gamut of bold Silk Road soliloquies; impromptu vehicles through which to ponder the greater meaning of Old World musical fusion in our digital, post-modern society.
“I’ve been playing fretless guitar since the early 2000s as a means to increase my expression on the guitar,” begins Marin. “On one hand, I wanted to be as expressive as a singer or a wind player. On the other, I wanted to figure out how to play Eastern European music that was in my blood, with the expressions of Indian, Turkish, Persian music coming from there. I studied the dutar later in life, but it felt right immediately. Normally I am drawn to long sustaining, soaring sounds – the opposite of the dutar. At a time of spiritual awakening in my life, I had a dream where I looked down and saw a dutar in my hands. Within weeks of tracking one down, it felt like I’d been playing my whole life.”
Acclaimed by Premier Guitar Magazine to “[boast] insane chops, impeccable time, mastery of diverse traditional scales, rare fretless guitar fluency and a gift for manipulating effects,” Marin once again proves with ‘Ruminate’ that he is a musician beyond compare. Passion, expressionism, meditation and urgency – each feeling ripples outward with every note ‘Ruminate’ emits.
Gabriel Akhmad Marin’s Ruminate: Improvisations for Fretless Guitar and Dutar is out 5 November on Worlds Within Worlds.