Sometimes, kindred spirits meet by chance—and end up talking all night. Sometimes, they wind up in a studio together and craft something spontaneous and extraordinary.

Guided by the poetry of Rumi and by a long-standing tradition of poetic recitation and musical dialogue, Saffron is a meeting of unexpected but strikingly simpatico musical minds, including vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, renowned Grammy-nominee sitar master Shujaat Khan, jazz and rock saxophonist Tim Ries, and composer and jazz pianist Kevin Hays. Together, the seemingly ad hoc ensemble creates a space where the revered poet’s words resonate in unexpected, engaging ways.

On Dawning (Tames Records distributed by Palmetto; release: February 5, 2013), the musical companions evoke the wrenching doubt and elevating passion, the delicate flirtation and deep perception of the Persian Sufi poet, drawing on their artful command of Indian classical and Western jazz forms, on traditional literature and contemporary sensibilities.

“It makes sense to engage both East and West, to use both to express the poems,” Goudarzi explains. “Unity and love are the most fundamental parts of Rumi’s poetry. We could, of course, use the same music that was considered Sufi music, forever and ever for another 800 years. But it’s a different world now, a new opportunity for interaction. And so long as we want to learn about each other, why not try to transcribe it in our own way?”

Saffron’s own way emerged swiftly in the studio, in a quicksilver dialogue. The improvisation and conversation became the perfect vehicle for expressing treasured sentiments and insights beyond language, historical period, and cultural bounds. “When certain musicians gather, we speak a language, and there are no words,” reflects Shujaat Khan. “We are conversing and we can feel each other’s emotions changing, that it’s all gelling and coming together. It’s so beautiful and so unbelievable, being together with wonderful musicians and exchanging opinions musically.”

“That’s the brilliant thing about music in general: you can be open to every possibility, and beautiful things can happen that way,” You create these tones these sounds that wouldn’t have happened w/o those people, that day. When you’re conversing with people and then a new person enters chat, it can either add to or detract. Yet another voice can be good, can take it to another realm of possibilities.”


Katayoun Goudarzi (vocal), Kevin Hays (piano), Shujaat Husain Khan (sitar, vocal), Abhiman Kaushal (tabla) & Tim Ries (tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, Hungarian folk flute)

Recorded April 28, 2009 at Firehouse Recording Studios (Pasadena, CA) by Ed Woolley
Mixing, editing & mastering by Rich Breen

Poetry by Maulânâ Jalâl al-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Rumi)

Tracks 1, 2 & 6 by Kevin Hays (Nivyek Yash Music/BMI), track 4 by Shujaat Hussain Khan and tracks 3, 5 & 7 by Tim Ries (Rieses Pieses Music/BMI)

Cover artwork by Mehdi Fallah


Hays’ soul is in this music, his voice included. A feel good work, exactly the kind of tonal direction that warms the heart and welcomes repeat listens. ★★★★ – Downbeat, July 2015