|All music, even the most rigorously abstract of absolute music, is about time. That concept takes on several layers of meaning in the music presented here by the trio of percussionist Ravish Momin, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and bassist and Oud player Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz.
Their music carries forward traditions from three of the four fountainheads of Old World civilization: China, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. You can hear it in the graceful, almost Chinese operatic arc of tone in Hwang's "Dai Genyo" solo or Blumenkranz's take on the mournful , unaccompanied Oud Taksim (solo) found in music from Persia to Greece, on “Song at Dusk.” And you can certainly hear it in Momin's sung Theka (Indian Clave Pattern) at the beginning of "String Drum Tarana" and the Unison Tehai (repeating rhythmic phrase) on “Gathering Song."
So "Climbing the Banyan Tree" is on one level about cultural time, especially since plucking and bowing strings and beating on drums were among mankind's earliest non-vocal musical activities.
But this is unquestionably music of our time, informed by contemporary masters. Momin is primarily a trap drummer, and that is his primary instrument here. It was his first instrument, and he approaches it with the meticulousness of his teacher, Andrew Cyrille. But Momin also finds the spaces between the beats, giving his time the spaciousness of the great Chicago school drummers.
Hwang has played with everybody, from Frank Lowe and Henry Threadgill to William Parker and Ned Rothenberg. But he is a composer first, and plays the music from the inside out. Blumenkranz gets a big, thrumming oud-like sound from his bass and plays the bottom notes of his oud with Charlie Haden's time. Like Ahmed Abdul Malik, who played with Monk and also doubled on Oud, Shanir, like Momin and Hwang, is at home in several musical worlds.
These worlds, like the various levels of time, coexist easily, here, completely at home. "Climbing the Banyan Tree" is music that is centuries, maybe millennia in the making, but could only have been made in the here and now.