Saracen, Jef Stott’s first full-length solo recording, has been a long time coming. His roots in experimental guitar work led him into the transglobal sonic underworld a la Balkan/Middle Eastern influences that formed the band Stellamara, where he discovered a wider range of instruments to experiment with, namely the hypnotic oud (Arabian lute). Thus he began a serious study of traditional cultures and their instruments, taking a departure from his former fascination with electronic sounds. But all in good time, his passions united and a natural marriage was born, he founded the label Embarka records to further his exploration into the endless world of sounds.
Stott has been on the global music scene for over a decade, and last year he released SoukSonik, an EP, on Six Degrees’ (digital-only) Emerging Artists series. His honest efforts were validated with heavy rotations and a successful world tour, building up to his much anticipated solo debut.
He plays many of the instruments himself, including the Persian oud and dulcimer; saz and cumbus (Turkish lutes); various percussions and electric bass. Stott collaborated with Persian and Arabic vocalists MC RAI, Reda Darwish and Hooman Fazly to top off the already full and steamy hot cup of modern-world-beat-brew.
Saracen opens unapologetically; “Lamaset” immediately begins with a solid beat and waves of dubby rhythms rolling in to make way for magnetic vocals and that Middle Eastern string sound Stott so loves to share. The album continues, maintaining the opening momentum and breathing out long, deep steady exhales that often sound like Mercan Dede or Cheb I Sabbah, while remaining uniquely Stott.
Though the record is solid from start to stop, there are tracks worth revisiting before moving onto the next one, like “Ashk.” It is an eerie and symphonic psychedelic lullaby, the sensual rhythms and hypnotic vocals whisper like a familiar scent only pausing long enough to make you notice it before it drifts again.
The title track lures and charms as Stott’s seamless blend of percussions – be they Indian, African, Brazilian or Egyptian based – tell a mysterious story, one that knows no cultural designation, except maybe just one called Human Expression.
The beats pick up on tracks “Medina Step”, “Faqir”, and the infectious “Axis.” The only thing missing is a good disco ball, solid dance floor and another notch (or ten) of volume (because something really incredibly good happens when a mash up of sounds from around the globe are fused together all at once on top of an in-your-face beat and listened to extremely freaking loudly).
It’s interesting to note that Stott has a degree in Anthropology and that he specifically focused on Turkey and Morocco, writing ethnographies about their cultures. He cites this education as a catalyst to his thoughts on music and what “truly global music would sound like.” If ever there was a puzzle to solve, it’s looking for those dividing lines that separate our cultures, and more significantly, how they’ve influenced each other along the way. What we label “traditional” has come to mean pure and unadulterated, though nothing could be further from the truth. Artists like Stott who are creating “new” sounds, are perhaps really just explorers, unearthing our past and reconnecting fractured pieces of a world culture.
Saracen is a logical and impressive response to Stott’s straightforward academic observations. It flows like a wave across all oceans, collecting and dispersing pieces of the whole not as we experience it through finite cultural boundaries, but as the never-ending process of an ecosystem sustaining all its parts.