Ahmed Warshanna – Ishta
Ahmed Warshanna splashes onto the scene like a thunderbolt with his debut album Ishta. To call it fascinating is to ignore the warmth of its depth; to call it emotional is to say too little of its intellectual prowess. It is a remarkable work which combines western Jazz and elements of Egyptian rhythms and motifs. This album is what we like.
The Egyptian character of the music comes from his parents who initiated him into the wonders of their national music when Ahmed was young. The Jazz comes from his discovery of the artform while he was still in high school. The blending of the styles is extraordinary—as I said, emotional and intellectual.
The story of the album Ishta is a tale of Ahmed and his mother. Ahmed’s abandonment of medical school in his third year, his depression, and then the horrifying diagnosis that his mother had cancer. She passed away in January of 2021, scarce weeks before the release of Ishta. Reading the liner notes from Ahmed and seeing his mother’s irrepressible smile there and on his Facebook page, makes the album a true testimony to her.
But it is the music itself that makes the album so riveting.
The! Warshanna Septet is Ahmed Warshanna on guitar, Hart Guonjian-Pettit on trumpet, Dominic Ellis on tenor saxophone, Daniel Sperlein on trombone, Josh Miller on piano, Thomas Owens on bass, and Charlie Seda on drums. This band does not let Ahmed down.
Ahmed himself is a brilliant guitarist, much like Hristo Vitchev who also combines the music of Jazz with the music of his homeland, in his case, Bulgaria. Ahmed plays with such a clean and precise sound, the melody takes centerstage in such beautiful ways. With only five tracks on the album, the music is wondrously expounded and explored over the course of 43 splendid minutes.
The album opens with Inty Omry. If my translation is correct, it means “Ýou are my everything.” It is introduced by Josh Miller’s solemn piano before being joined by Ahmed’s touching guitar. The Egyptian rhythms are so well suited for the melodies and the horn excursions. The horns are punctuating and carry their own motifs in the music. This piece gives you everything you want. Each instrument offers a unique contribution. It is over nine minutes of delight.
Alf Leila follows with its homage to the tune by Oum Kalthoum. Look up the original on YouTube and enjoy the comparison. The running bass is accentuated by the sweet trumpet and other horns. The tenor sax gets a smoking hot passage. Then listen out for the raucous trombone solo. Everybody is on fire. Then Ahmed adds that inimitable guitar in lightning-fast passes that come to an abrupt andante line before surrendering to the horns again. But that clean and sweet guitar of Ahmed’s makes return after return in touching beauty.
Next comes Samaka, a cool Jazz number with exquisite piano, bass and drum work that so solidly supports the Jazz guitar. At 6:59, it is the shortest song on the album but still says so much. It is a lush piece that is packed with tender emotion. The gorgeous piano lead is warm and lovely with a touch of melancholy.
It is followed by Azra’ with its piano and guitar duet introduction. It contains one of the most captivating guitar melodies of the whole album. The interplay of guitar and piano is solidly supported by Thomas Owens’ walking bass line. The guitar line has these beautiful changes and demands attention. A vibrant interlude gives way back to the wonderful melody. I couldn’t get enough of this one quartet piece for guitar-piano-bass-drums.
Intisar opens with a haunting four-note motif for the Dominic Ellis tenor saxophone that is developed over the course of the 9:39 minute piece. Such a fascinating construct to this song and executed flawlessly by the whole band. The tenor sax holds this sustained tone that sounds like it has gone of the rails but it done so brilliantly with haunting intent and sublime results. Ahmed’s guitar takes fine control of the movement and the four-note motif. Josh Miller’s piano takes on a bold and colorful solo with his own twists on the motif. Then Owens gets a stringent bass solo before the tenor saxophone recaptures that motif, sharing it with the band to close the song and, thus, the album. A magnificent close to a thrilling album.
Out of the depths of his grief, Ahmed Warshanna a work of beauty and wonder.The album deserves rapt attention and the artist bears close watching.