Gozar, the Sheen Trio’s debut album is released by BERTHOLD records on May 5th 2023 The line up: Shabnam Parvaresh on bass clarinet, flute and FX, Ula Martyn-Ellis on Guitar, and Philipp Buck on drums.
The album title (also the name of a track) means “passage” in Persian. Parvaresh composed all but one of the pieces. The music traces her life story from Teheran, Iran to Germany where she now lives. Moving between traditional Iranian motifs and modern experimental jazz, much of the music describes moments in Parvaresh’s journey. “In Teheran we grew up in a bubble,” says the composer. “I was so different to others. My parents listened to Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane, and we would watch movies, You had to call a person who would come in a taxi with a Samsonite bag full of VHS films, good ones including from the Cannes Festival. I’ve no idea how he got hold of them.” In the years before Parvaresh left Iran it was possible to connect to the internet, but with great difficulty. “It also wasn’t allowed to just go into a music store and buy rock or metal or pop music,” she recalls.
5 days, 8 hours and 35 minutes is about her experiences of downloading music in the 90ies.“That’s how long it took,” she says. “I was often screaming at the computer, then the electricity would get cut off and you’d have to start again. It was the only way to get hold of music from the west.” The piece is loud and experimental, reflecting her frustration.
“At home you could be yourself but as soon as you put your foot outside you had to be a completely different person,” says Parvaresh recalling her youth in Iran. She was learning to play first the flute and then the clarinet. She won second prize in a clarinet competition and her undoubted musical talents led to her acceptance into the Teheran Symphony Orchestra. “I was the second women to play in the woodwind section, but it was very hierarchical, very sexist. A horrible environment to play in. There were cameras everywhere to check if the hijab was correct or if we were shaking hands with men. They should have been looking at the quality of our music.”
Meanwhile protesters were being shot on the streets. “I wrote the song Gozar about the later 2020 demonstrations in Teheran, “ she explains. “It’s a very political piece. The price of petrol went so high nobody could afford it. More than 300 people died, innocent people, also children, and thousands landed in prison and there were no reports in the media because they cut the internet. Today the people are demonstrating again and we are witnessing a revolution in Iran. I have never been so proud to be an Iranian women because it is the brave women of Iran who are taking center stage at the demonstrations against the regime. The tune of Gozar,” says the composer “is an interpretation of a traditional mourning melody which they play, for example, on the occasion of Ashura, a Shiite festival in memory of the Imam Hussein. Everyone wears black and they go into the street and they hit themselves. But instead of Iman Hussein I am mourning the innocent victims of the ongoing demonstrations.”
Parvaresh talks of her love-hate relationship with traditional Iranian music. It was used for propaganda purposes by the regime and yet she misses it as part of her history and background. “Flashback is the most Iranian composition that I wrote. Going back to the roots,” she says. It is beautifully written, intriguing yet slightly funky, and inspired by traditional Iranian Radif-Music. The song Avang (Pendulum) is a tribute to her late grandmother who passed away in Tehran last year. “My grandmother had a huge clock with a pendulum but it was out of order so she always needed to correct it, every hour or so. The pendulum was not regular, which is why I wrote this piece in five. It’s perhaps a metaphor for the dysfunctional Iranian society. You always need someone to correct it.”
Parvaresh’s parents were very politically minded and her father was imprisoned by the regime for seven years. Much of the family managed to leave for the US in 2007. Unable to go to the US herself, in 2013 she was able to move, at the age of 29, to Germany. It took her two years to secure a student visa. “It was horrible,” she recalls. Eventually the visa was granted to study at the Music Institute at the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences. Terminal C is about leaving Iran. The melancholic bass clarinet contrasts with the unsettling drive of the drums and guitar. “When I was in the airport I really didn’t know what it would be like leaving a life behind and I really didn’t know what was coming to me. It was a leap pretty much into the unknown.”
Once in Germany, Parvaresh planned to continue in the classical tradition. However she met jazz musicians and she went along to jam sessions and concerts. “It was like – wow – this is actually what I want to do,” she recalls. “I also knew in my heart that I wanted to write my own music. I won a jazz clarinet prize in Osnabrück. They asked if I had a band, so I thought okay, maybe I should do something about it.” She formed the Sheen Trio with fellow students Ula Martyn-Ellis and Philipp Buck, whose sensitivity and virtuosity complement the clarinetist’s wonderfully expressive playing.
Shortly after the trio was formed, the corona crisis set in. “It was pretty hard but were able to play some online concerts,” she recalls. Rudy the Spider, was written during the lockdown. “I saw some red flakes on the window and wondered where they came from. Then I saw the spider eating fruit flies. It was a massacre. It was lockdown and you noticed these small things. I started to talk to the spider – like a house pet.”
Parvaresh found it reasonably easy to integrate into German society. “My upbringing was different to most in Iran,” she says. “I grew up in a very open family so it wasn’t a real shock when I came here. Many things were normal but there were still problems, not so much racism, people thought I was East European, but because I’m a woman. So for example, when I’m doing sound checks the guys don’t ask me, they talk to Philipp my drummer. They think – she’s a woman – she definitely doesn’t know what’s going on. But I’m the band leader! That’s a little bit frustrating. Sometimes they don’t take you seriously.”
Gozar is a powerful, subtle and insightful album that combines the sounds and textures of contrasting worlds. Parvaresh’s playing, particularly of the bass clarinet, is mature and resonant. Her use of FX with her wind instruments is innovative and enhances the range of emotions that she so successfully expresses, Above all this is an album that shows the richness that young musicians, mixing different cultural and political experiences, can bring to the music scene in Germany.