All Things Assyrian
The Jazzy Assyrian
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Melbourne Assyrian jazz vocalist Lillian Albazi's debut album 'After-Image' was inspired by years of touring and jazz' golden age.
She relishes in the vibrant artistic community of Brunswick, Fitzroy and Collingwood -- "then there's little old me trying to soak up as much of it as possible" -- she feels privileged to be living the career she has always wanted. Albazi is daughter of an Assyrian refugee, who was conscripted into the Iraq War under Saddam Hussein before fleeing to Australia.

"He left everything behind in the hopes of seeking a safer future," she says. "The history of my family is absolutely sacred and has a profound daily effect on me. To put it simply, I cherish the little things in life.

Related: Lillian Albazi touring information and album sales

"My father never had an opportunity to choose a career that he wanted so to me, being an artist is a privilege and something I will never take for granted. I grew up listening to all sorts of music in my dad's car. Assyrian music, Arabic music, Indian music. Listening to tonal systems that you rarely hear on mainstream radio stations. He'd sing along and talk to me about life and culture in Iraq. As I said, all this music was totally out of context to the pitch organisation of western music that I was used to as a little girl and, I think looking back, is something that has really contributed greatly to my love for jazz. The scales and harmony within jazz are so complex. It's exciting and endless. You can spend hours getting lost in transcribing solos or looking at the different harmonic structures/substitutions that different jazz musicians have used to play the same standard.

"In my liner notes of my album, I write to Dad 'thank you for teaching me that kindness and hard work will open doors'. I simply wouldn't exist if it wasn't for his courage so I am forever grateful to be here, making music and I think Dad is proud that his sacrifices allowed him to tell everyone now that his daughter is a musician."

It's a dream progression that Albazi has carefully earned. She first came to prominence at 22 years old with her quintet, debuting at the 2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Since then, she's toured Australia extensively playing at key venues and festivals including MONA Museum, Devonport Jazz Festival and Melbourne Recital Centre.

After six years of playing alongside fellow collaborators Luke Andresen (drums), Henry Davis (guitar), Oscar Neyland (double bass), Shaun Rammers (tenor saxophone), she was asked by an audience member when her album was due.

"We walked into Rolling Stock Recording Rooms six months later, Myles Mumford hit that rolling button and here we are," she says. The album also features special guests Tony Gould AM, who accompanies Lillian in a hauntingly beautiful presentation of 'My Funny Valentine' whilst 'Comes Love' features rising star Kade Brown on piano.

"After-Image highlights our strengths and voices as individual improvisers but also the sound we create when we come together. It tells the story of the last six years of touring and playing shows around Australia, where we have come from and where we'd like to go. Practice for this album was done on the road, at gigs."

Albazi's heritage subtly underlines her work, which broadly reflects her joyous approach to life. On the captivating debut album After-Image, she renews the familiar with deft, complex takes on classic and contemporary standards, performing a range of modern jazz styles with wit, playfulness and sombre romanticism.

"An after-image is the impression left on the closed eyelid -- an impression of a piece of music filtered through someone else," she explains. "Over time, the after-image might distort and change, leaving you with a sentiment, a feeling or just the framework of what was. For this reason, it feels a perfect analogy for the re-interpretation and arrangements of the standards on the album, presenting the listener with an after-image of the familiar. Seeing things through my eyes, listening to my after-images."

Her album tour opened back in July with Albazi and her band performing to capacity houses in Ulverstone and Hobart, Tasmania as well as a beautiful showcase on the lawns of MONA before COVID lockdowns brought things to a halt.

The tour will now recommence with rescheduled dates planned from November through to February, 2022. For those who are unable to catch her live, however, she went to great lengths to ensure she packed the same unique energy into her album recording.

"I'm a fan of everything old school and handmade.. old recording techniques, vintage gear, valve amps," she continues.

"I just think it all sounds better and has a history and depth to it. I'm in awe of musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and their recordings. You put that needle down on a live Keith Jarrett LP and you can hear him grunting and groaning the whole way through it. The cracks and creeks of Holiday's voice are and will always be unmatched by any perfectly pitched, unwavering vocal that you could play me.

"Some of Davis's most iconic albums were recorded over two days just blitzing through standards and seeing what transpires. Deep listening, leaving space for improvisation/the unknown plus that amazing grittiness and bite of old live recordings. That's what I've tried to achieve here. A sound that is just like you'd hear if you attend a gig and all the raucous fun in-between.

"In my studio at home I have framed Art Kane's, 'A Great Day in Harlem'. It's the most incredible photograph and captures so many giants of jazz and a time in history that as a jazz musician you should always pay respect to and immerse yourself in. There are too many musicians to list that inspire me in that photograph but on a very personal level, my mother singing old folk songs to me every night as a small child is something that has had a deep effect on my love of singing.

"I'd say the musicians who I get to work with in both the bands that I am part of inspire me greatly too. They challenge me to be better, to reach higher levels of proficiency and strive for greater success."

With the album launched and touring set to recommence, she returns to her nation-trotting schedule, but not before supporting the family and local community that brought her this far.

"The future holds lots of touring, new releases, recording studios, giving my mum a big old kiss and getting out in my local community to support the venues, stores and shops that have been doing it rough these past few years with the lack of funding," she says.

"Our Australian jazz community is truly golden. It is a melting pot of diverse musical influence, critical thought and open mindedness. That paired with that space that is left for improvisation and freedom of interpretation while drawing on the complex political and cultural history of jazz makes for an amazing scene.

"Lastly, I would like your readers to know that I apologise in advance for my terrible jokes that they will be a witness to when they come to one of my shows."

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