Ahmed Warshanna | Ishta Review
by Jeff Becker
Ahmed Warshanna is a Baltimore-based jazz guitarist, composer, and educator. Growing up in an Egyptian-American household has influenced his musical voice with a pleasing combination of East and West scale colors and harmonies. His formal education was at UMBC, where he studied with Tom Lagana and Matt Belzer, eventually graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Studies and a Music Achievement Award in 2020. Since graduating, Warshanna is focusing on composing original music for his septet. He is now releasing his debut album Ishta. The music was conceived during his mother’s battle against breast cancer, and witnessing his mother suffer through treatment provoked him to compose an album in her honor. Hence the name Ishta. Warshanna is joined by Hart Guonjian-Pettit (trumpet), Dominic Ellis (tenor saxophone), Daniel Sperlein (trombone), Joshua Miller (piano), Thomas Owens (bass), and Charlie Seda (drums).
“Intry Omry” is our introduction to Warshanna’s compositions style and The! Warshanna Septet. With three horns fronting the ensemble, Warshanna has implemented a compelling orchestration balance to the melody. The form unfolds in a series of building movements that have strong counterpoint and tutti. The harmony and rhythmic structure are intensely focused on the hardbop/postbop style, but with added scale colors of Eastern scales. Dominic Ellis performs a moving tenor saxophone solo that builds to an emotional climax and seamless segue to Warshanna’s solo. Warshanna plays with a warm pleasing acoustic box guitar sound and his ideas are strongly motivated and based on developing each idea with rhythmic creativity. Again, with a seamless transition, Josh Miller is handed the solo baton, in which he carries on the song’s melodic and energetic colors beautifully. Warshanna shows he is a strong composer and thoughtful bandleader from the very first selection.
“Alf Leila” begins with a propelling bassline from Thomas Owens colored by Charlie Seda’s poly-rhythmic drum set. The melody flows with Warshanna’s clever use of counterpoint to create textures and layers. The different feels of the various sections are matched with new harmonic colors. The solo form starts with a relaxed swing that each soloist digs into and is very creative upon. Warshanna’s solo again explores rhythmic motifs that are strung together to create a very moving improvised statement.
Ishta brings in a fresh sound to the hardbop/postbop style, with Warshanna exploring different sounds from the East and West. His compositions are robust, and his solos are impressive. This project is a remarkable collection of five original pieces by this rising star in the jazz community; put Ahmed Warshanna on your locating system for someone that is creating fresh, exciting, and innovative sounds in the modern jazz community.