Everybody Gets a Seat at the Table: “An Idealist’s Handbook” from Noshir Mody

Noshir Mody CD cover

A new CD is just out from composer and guitarist Noshir Mody called “An Idealist’s Handbook” and it’s a beautiful, intelligent conversation that blends, bends and expands on harmonic ideas. Marrying guitar and piano seems effortless and natural to Mody, who launches the song “Ol’ Splitfoot” with sweetness and lyricism. This soon yields to an increasing intensity until gleaming horns and full percussion involvement brings about the crescendo. This song is a fantastic showpiece that masters tricky changes in dynamics as well as tempo. “Rise” plays with chords, some dissonant and leading, and midrange vocals that slay. Very skilled picking from Mody on this track as well. In “Under a Starlit Sky” he’s not shy about exploring the high end of the frets and stays very comfortably in that rarefied air with an echo that evokes a harp.

Are you the idealist here?

When creating this project, I was going through the pages of my book that I use to scribble random thoughts, lyrics, chord voicings, lists, etc. and I narrowed down my selection to five pieces that I thought were ready to be shared with the world. As I sat there trying to determine the central theme to these seemingly disjointed songs so I could name the project, it occurred to me that I should just call it what it is – “An Idealist’s Handbook”.

The five songs tackle topics of identity, love and hope that are central to defining our experience today as Americans. The term “idealist” has always come with a negative connotation of weakness, as someone who lacks the practical know-how or ability to execute successfully in this world. I don’t share that view or perception and feel we need more forward thinking, capable idealists to deliver outcomes if we are ever going to manifest a fairer society based on merit.   

Where did you get the initial inspiration for this album from?

I compose as I’m inspired, and this album is a compilation of my compositions/arrangements that occurred over the last two years or so. The material just seemed so timely to me with the current situation of our country.

How do you believe these tracks reflect the diversity of identities in America today?

The album narrative is from my experiences and point of view, but even though I’m an immigrant who is now a naturalized US citizen my experience is not an isolated one. In my interactions I have found that we are in a crisis of identity as Americans – do we stand for tolerance, compassion, courage, innovation, endurance or do we want to be ‘great’ while restricting access, building walls, denying opportunities, designing and implementing vastly different policies for different segments of the population and incurring deficits of humanity towards our own people?

I cannot fathom how we can have a single identity as Americans while enacting an agenda that favors only a section of our country’s population providing only them with opportunities to education, financial well-being, health care services and the fair enforcement of laws and due process.

Do you think music – jazz in particular – provides hope, and how?

To me, music is expression and specifically Jazz is expression through dialog and conversation– the day we stop conversing and discussing is the day issues will spill onto the streets, as we are currently witnessing. So yes, expression/dialog/discussion in any form is hopeful, since as long as we are engaged in the process the expectation for a better outcome still exists.

In my opinion, the cornerstone of jazz which is improvisation over propulsive rhythms artistically embodies the fundamental human desire to be free and evolving.

You have a large ensemble. What caused you to invite these musicians to participate in the album?

For years now, everyone who is in the ensemble is either referred by someone else in the ensemble or is someone that has caught my attention. But at this level I don’t fuss too much about skill since they can all throw down. I’m focused on attracting and keeping quality individuals who are unique in their vision of themselves and the world and as a result can bring something to the table.

I find that musicians gravitate towards certain songs, that there is a natural sympathetic process that lends one musician to excel in a solo for a particular song over another. It’s my function to arrange the music for the recordings highlighting those relationships between artists and material. 

Your favorite track? The most challenging one?

This is hard, I really do love them all since I relate to each one of them in a very unique manner. So, no favorite but for most challenging I’d pick “Ol’ Splitfoot” because we’re switching time signatures within the song – between 7/8 and 4/4 (a composite of 7/8 and 9/8).

What is the overall mood you are going for?

I want listeners to hear this album and be inspired to act. To realize that ultimately, we alone are responsible for how this current situation in our country plays out. I’m not advocating politics, I’m advocating participation. Feel strongly about whatever your position may be and take part in the process. We can all learn from one another and move forward.

What are you most proud of in your music career thus far?

I believe and persevere and that takes its toll as I realize I can be difficult to be around during these periods, but I feel a great sense of pride and gratitude when my visions eventually take shape and inspire people.

Other comments?

Much love to the incredible musicians and engineers on this album – Kate Victor, Mike Mullan, Benjamin Hankle, Campbell Charshee, Yuka Tadano, Jarrett Walser, Brian Sargent, John Davis and Alex DeTurk.

For more information, visit www.noshirmody.net.

© Debbie Burke 2020
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Noshir Mody.

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