Jasmine on a Night in July is the debut studio full-length from the trio that calls itself Scree. They’re led by Arab-American guitarist Ryan El-Solh in creation of a unique melding of American exotica, minimalist jazz and El-Solh’s Lebanese and Palestinian heritage. The trio is rounded out by bassist Carmen Rothwell (Vales, Ben Seretan, Dave Douglas) and drummer Jason Burger (Big Thief, Renata Zeiguer), and they all exhibit a high level of listening and spiritual fluidity. Think of the ambient pioneers The Necks overlain with spiritual World music.
The introductory, side-of-the-bow arco bass notes on the opening track “Victory Signs” immediately remind me of Calexico founder and bassist Joey Burns’s experimental work on early Calexico records, especially Aerocalexico. And it turns out the comparison is apt, as guitarist and composer El-Solh launches into a desert soundscape that deftly blends Arabian and Southwestern American elements. It’s a deeply entrancing tune and intro to the Jasmine‘s heady mix of exotica, Arabian, and bluesy jazz.
Bassist Rothwell emphasizes the latter in a melodic solo that’s a highlight of the next number “Beautiful Days,” set atop a soundscape that’s part drone and part glitter. But Jasmine defies easy categorization, and frequently leans hard into its jazz foundations, often when least expected. El-Solh lays down some deeply weird, wonderful and complex guitar chords on “Fatigue,” breaking up an otherwise nearly straight exotica number. There’s something like that, sometimes several somethings, on pretty much every track. Often it’s just a bit of Arabian coloring on the guitar that pushes an arrangement slightly out of its ambient groove, as on the unexpectedly passionate “Questions For The Moon.”
El-Sohl’s trebly guitar tune floats gently above a sweetly droning tremelo organ on the title track, its melody and arrangement calling to mind the Mondo Cane score, for those of an age to recall the Italian documentary that spawned a hit song. He moves to a baritone guitar with a mellow, muted tone for the mysterious “Half Death.” This one wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Friends of Dean Martinez disc. An elegiac piano solo opens the dramatic final track “After The Ashes.” Layers of keyboards – organs, more piano, perhaps some synthesizer – enhance the funereal vibe of this tune, on which the guitar makes only a brief appearance.
“Jasmine On A Night In July” was aptly chosen as the title track, combining as it does a languid Middle Eastern style introduction with an upbeat, even swinging, melodic section that has lots of Americana twang to it. But there’s not a single track here that’s not drenched in sonic beauty and put forth with care. A perfect disc for when you’re in a certain mood.