Sri Lankan jazz drummer in the New York scene

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About Rajiv Jayaweera: (http://www.rajivjayaweera.com)

Rajiv Jayaweera is a Sri Lankan jazz drummer and composer who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He completed his Bachelor of Music at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, and Masters in Jazz Studies at SUNY Purchase, New York in 2013. Since completing his Masters degree, he has been based in New York and regularly performs at the legendary jazz clubs: Birdland, The Blue Note, Smalls and Jazz at Lincoln Centre, among others
He has toured extensively around the world, performing with artists such as Cyrille Aimee, Lara Bello, Ragstretch and his own group at jazz clubs and festivals such as The Cotton Club, Tokyo, Jazz at Lincoln Centre, Doha, The London Jazz Festival, The Montreal Jazz Festival, The Copenhagen Jazz Festival etc. His quintet was featured as “artists in residence”, and a headline act, at the Thailand International Jazz Conference in January, 2020. 

About ‘Pistils’

Pistils is the debut recording from Rajiv Jayaweera. The album showcases eight compelling, thoughtful originals, which draw inspiration from Sri Lanka.  Jayaweera’s compositions feature strong melodies and beauty, coupled with intricate bass lines and rhythmic interplay.  His band of Chris Cheek (soprano & tenor saxophones), Aaron Parks (piano), Hugh Stuckey (guitar) and Sam Anning (double bass), truly display why they are amongst the most revered and sought-after musicians on the international jazz scene today.


The album is bookended by two different versions of the title track, Pistils. The first is sparse and free of time, with the profoundly emotive vocals of special guest, Lara Bello (from Granada, Spain), who sings the melody in an improvised language. It closes with a stripped back trio take with guitar, saxophone and drums playing the “Pistils” theme, with the style of the great Paul Motian trio in mind. The melody of Pistils is a monumental achievement, and the centerpiece of this wonderful debut from an artist overflowing with potential and possibilities. One of the most special characteristics in Sri Lanka is the variety of flowers that exist there. In trying to get to the essence of these flowers, you find the seed-bearing organs, collectively known as “pistils.” Jayaweera was drawn to the word pistils because it took him to the heart of these flowers.

Ellstandissa, featuring the Sri Lankan Thammattama drum (or temple drum) incorporates rhythms from Gajaga Wannama, or dance of the elephant, in 7/8 time. The main melody of the song is circular and haunting, and is played over a counter melody that superimposes a polyrhythmic figure. Ellstandissa is a made up word combining the names of the composer’s grandparents, Ellerine and Professor Stanley Dissanaike (Dean of Medicine, University of Colombo 1967-1970).

It’s fitting that the next track is Welikadawatte, translating to Welikada Gardens in Sinhalese. For over forty years this was where Rajiv’s grandparents lived and a place he would visit each year. Musically, this piece is reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal’s famous tune, Poinciana. The Elephant, once again incorporating the Thammattama drum, conjures up the image of an elephant walking through the jungle.

Hirimbura is Rajiv’s Grandfather’s hometown in the south of Sri Lanka, near Galle. The piece has ‘stompy’ Charles Mingus-esque feel that is simultaneously modern and traditional in nature. The strong quarter-note pulse instinctively makes you want to tap your foot or click your fingers along to it.

Malkoha Bird is a tropical bird endemic to Sri Lanka with a long graduated tail. This is the only song on the album where saxophonist Chris Cheek switches from tenor to soprano, singing the melody like a bird.
The artwork for the album features a mixed media piece entitled Garden of Earthly Delights by the renowned Sri Lankan artist – Dr. Priyantha Udagedera.

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