Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily: Love in Exile Trio
In 2022 Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab gave Big Ears listeners a preview of her Grammy-winning album Vulture Prince, which was released a month after her galvanizing performance. Since then Aftab has made new fans everywhere. The recording was a culmination of years of study and experimentation, with her patient curiosity entwining the elasticity of jazz performance and the soothing tones of ambient music with the traditional ghazals of her homeland. As Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, “Her voice is contemplative, breathy and relaxed, with the intimacy of indie-pop and jazz though she occasionally uses the microtonal embellishments of classical South Asian singing.” The music on Vulture Prince brought together those threads within gauzy, clear-eyed arrangements that billow with aerated textures.
This year she returns with the Love in Exile Trio, featuring two of her most trusted collaborators: pianist Vijay Iyer and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily who together transform sound into sculpture. The group’s performances are largely improvised, with Aftab’s measured singing typically carving out a serene melodic space that her partners shadow or disrupt depending on the case. Both Iyer and Ismaily deploy electronics in addition to piano and electric bass, respectively, which allows the music endless options. It can retain a meditative quiet, casting a spell over the performance space, or it can cleave to a loose song-like structure, with the instrumentalists offering delicate counterpoint to the singer’s mentholated beauty.
Speaking of the trio, Aftab told an interviewer from 15questions.net,“I think for all three of us, its weightless and water-like performance quality really gives us a break from the more rigorous and planned/organized music work that we do. The fact that we communicate solely through music (and maybe some telepathy to be honest) is crazy, and kind of affirms our sense of unified music vibrations with each other.”