SoSaLa – Nu World Trashed
(DooBeeDoo Records. Review by Fiona Mactaggart)
These days an odd image repeatedly appears in this writer’s mind: the UK in the process of being shrink-wrapped. Perhaps such experiences are understandable during these current Covid and Brexit times, but they make globe-spanning albums like this one feel especially welcome.
Of Iranian descent, SoSaLa was born in Switzerland and brought up in Germany, before spending some years in Japan where as well as performing and recording he found the time to acquire a 6th Dan in the martial art Kendo.
Recording and performing extensively, over the years he has worked with the likes of Salif Keita, Lukas Ligeti, Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka, as well as with his mentor, Ornette Coleman. Additionally, since moving to the USA in 2008 SoSaLa has increasingly been active in music activism, in 2015 founding Musicians For Musicians (MFM) to champion musicians’ rights, especially in the USA(*).
Nu World Trashed’s nine tracks take a previous album, Nu World Trash from 2011, as the starting point. Most compositions are by SoSaLa himself, except for electronics-heavy tracks where the credits are shared with Germany-based Hubl Greiner and Paul Amrod (track 1) and Genetic Drugs (tracks 3, 5 and 8). Their contributions inject a modern, urban European feel.
Whilst a reflective atmosphere evolves as the album unfolds, the tone of the initial parts is fierce, with urgent pleas to our common humanity. SoSaLa decries the alienating effects of social media, the loneliness of many urban dwellers and the unfairness of uber-capitalists who do not treat musicians and other workers fairly.
The first track Welcome Nu World references the present isolated lifestyle caused by the coronavirus pandemic. SoSaLa’s sax carefully and insistently pushes the melody through Greiner’s at times harsh Rhodes chords, whilst ambient sounds of a crowd cheering for keyworkers during the coronavirus lockdown ebb and flow.
Following this, the ante ups further with zinger protest song Enough Is Enough in which SoSaLa passionately declaims his central concerns: “Bloody vampire capitalists”; “Musicians mobilise!”. This specifically references some New York City jazz clubs which in 2014 allegedly reneged on a deal with the Musicians’ Union for fair pay for musicians. SoSaLa’s sax is mostly restrained, supported by electronics and some attractive drumming from Senegalese Mar Gueye and Massamba Diop, whilst philosopher and political activist Dr Cornel West calls for unity amongst musicians.
From here on the album continues to feel intense but in a calmer way: the third track, a coronach-style tribute to SoSaLa’s mentor, Mystical Full Moon For Ornette Coleman, is a case in point. This is followed by a nod to SoSaLa’s years in Japan, Sad, Sad, Sad Sake. Inspired by a song made famous by the Japanese Enka singer Hibari Misora, this live recording opens with delicate globe-traversing sounds from David Belmont’s dobro. The melody gradually establishes, as Kaveh Haghtalab’s kemancheh moves from pizzicato to arco. A background of insistent drums is mildly unsettling within the overall, yearning feel.
Fifth track Anybody Out There? is an apparent plea for humanity to put aside their selfishness and care for each other. Created by Genetic Drugs around SoSaLa’s melodic line, there is a pleasant melding of electronics and skipping strings, heightened by ambient New York sirens. The plea to our better natures continues in funk-blues feel tune, What’s What? SoSaLa intones about the evils of existential anomie amidst instrumentals that sound so spacious as to be largely improvised.
The album becalms further with the gorgeous My Shushtari, which pays tribute to the late Iranian master musician, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian. Lovely Persian classical-sounding soprano sax forms engage with David Shively’s delicate, zither-like Hungarian cimbalom in a ruminative, meandering story.
Penultimate track Anyone Out There? (Lift Off) is an electronics-dominant reprise of the fifth track, while final tune Intro Music opens with portentous low register strings supporting the gently stravaiging sax, the latter finding the energy to ululate at 4.40, as though finally succeeding in achieving a hopeful outlook to the future.
Throughout Nu World Trashed there is a strong sense of improvisation, of a global outlook and of friends moved by the same injustices. The variety of musical influences might have led to what we in Scotland call a terrible fankle, but actually it all feels free and very rich. Just the antidote to that shrink-wrapped feeling.
(*) Declaration of interest: For several years Fiona Mactaggart has published occasional reviews in DooBeeDooBeeDoo – New York, the musical companion webzine to SoSaLa’s organisation, Musicians For Musicians (MFM) which advocates for Musicians’ Rights, especially fair pay for US musicians.