Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, and Shahzad Ismaily
"Love in Exile"
June 16, 2021
Three accomplished musicians forge a singular voice incorporating their distinct backgrounds and vast histories of collaboration. Spellbinding vocalist Arooj Aftab is the first Pakistani American to win a Grammy; MacArthur "genius" Vijay Iyer is an influential pianist; and multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bassist Shahzad Ismaily has performed with Lou Reed and Tom Waits. Together, they create timeless, one-of-a-kind performances of haunting collaborative soundscapes. Aftab describes the project as "about self-exile, and the search for freedom and identity, and finding it through love and music."
Jazz, world music, and experimentation unite in a heavenly transformation. Both ancient and modern, the music weaves an environment of suspended tones, creating a hypnotic cocoon of sound. Aftab’s warm, immersive voice is rich and haunting, imparting a state of relaxation. This profound evening will sweep the audience up in a world of sound.
Backstage after their 2018 debut show in their adopted hometown of New York City, Ismaily asked Aftab and Iyer to huddle together and reflect on what had just occurred. “We felt it from the first moment,” remembers Iyer. “We were mystified and almost silent and said: ‘I don’t know what just happened. But we should do that again.’” They hadn’t prepared material in advance; the potent chemistry surprised even these seasoned collaborators. A shared focus on collective real-time creation allowed them to weave the bass, piano, and vocals into a breathtakingly unified sound. This was music in the moment. Words couldn’t define it, but the audience felt it and joined the emotional journey. Staying open to spontaneous co-creation became the band’s defining approach in the half dozen shows they played before recording their debut album.
Individually, their accolades are substantial, but the marvel here is how ego disappears as the three players merge to create a singular, gorgeous sound.
One key factor is how Aftab employs her otherworldly voice as another instrument in the ensemble. “I’m mostly using the words to get the sound out,” she says. “I’m not thinking about telling a story.” The voice-as-wind-instrument gels with the synth/keys combination of Iyer and Ismaily that flow together like sunlight and shadow.
More broadly, by trusting in real-time creation — and each other — the band is able to cross-pollinate spontaneity with the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime in music. As Ismaily puts it, “I feel like we're subtly cueing listeners to say, ‘Live like this.’”
This is the first performance by Aftab, Iyer, and Ismaily at the Moss Arts Center.