Combining musical traditions of the past with contemporary concepts, Behrooz Mihankhah’s debut album Lydium defies easy classification. Even the Halifax-based composer, pianist, and songwriter finds himself struggling to pinpoint the style.
“I do have a bit of a problem with fitting into a specific genre,” he says. “There are elements of jazz in it, but it also is many other things. I find the world music category a little problematic, too.”
But with a mix of original compositions and reimagined works inspired by his migration from Iran via India to Canada, it is understandable why even Mihankhah finds describing Lydium‘s sound challenging.
Add the use of the Iranian tar (lute) and tombak (drum) alongside a blend of western instruments, fuse it with impressionist and jazz compositions and it appears he may indeed have created something that transcends labels.
Featuring six original compositions and four works from jazz legends Joe Henderson and John Coltrane, and 19th-century French composer Erik Satie, Mihankhah says Lydium is an introduction to his unique mix of musical traditions.
“I’m trying to present these tunes in a way that is familiar to both someone who listens to impressionist or modern music and also to people who are familiar with Iranian instrumentation,” says Mihankhah.
Another big part of what makes Lydium different is its generous use of improvisation. It is something that honours the styles Mihankhah draws on.
“Improvisation is a huge part of both Iranian traditional music and jazz,” he explains. “I was familiar with the different improvisational styles of the musicians on the album and what that they could add, so there’s a lot of room in the recordings for improvisation. It adds equally to the texture and overall sound of the album.”
Growing up in Tehran, Mihankhah’s younger years consisted of singing at parties and family gatherings. But beyond a couple of piano lessons in his early years, it wasn’t until he moved to India with his family at age fifteen that he found his love for music, studying konnakol and Carnatic music and the western harp for a semester in South India.
“By the time I was out of high school, I played the guitar and performed as a singer-songwriter in India,” he says.
It wouldn’t be until his family’s move to Canada, though, that would solidify his chosen profession. Obtaining a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from St. Francis Xavier University, it would be there that Mihankhah started exploring what would eventually become the eclectic mix on Lydium.
“By the time I was out of university, I recognized all these different influences that exist in my playing and in the things that I hear and want to write,” he says. “So I decided just to go ahead and explore and really embrace them.”
Mihankhah is now ready to share that musical vision with the world.
“I haven’t seen any projects that are similar to this one coming from Nova Scotia, from local Nova Scotia musicians,” he says. “And I hope people come to see the show, or have a listen.”
Lydium drops on October 16, with an album release concert scheduled at The Music Room in Halifax. Visit behroozmihankhah.com for more information.