You’re compelled to pick up the CD because of the artwork and you’re compelled to listen to it simply because of the sheer uniqueness of the guitar play. Usman Riaz is a musical prodigy; there’s no other way of putting it. His guitar compositions range from the highly sophisticated guitar composition to the morose and melancholic.
Flashes and Sparks is a collection of three such compositions. According to the CD sleeve, Usman Riaz describes the album as “a brief glimpse into my world.” It’s safe to say that that sounds like an overused and clichéd statement. In this case, it is absolutely not the case. The album, at just over 12 minutes of music, is indeed a musical eco system unto itself. It’s just enough to get a glimpse of this young talented and gifted musician’s guitar playing prowess and his mind. Again, talented and gifted seem such underrated words to use for Usman’s work which is by far the most sophisticated piece of music you will hear in 2011. Unless, of course, he releases another album this year.
The album starts off with Firefly. Here, crescendos of guitar mingle with soft passages, whispers in fact, creating track entirely composed on one single guitar. And if that mix wasn’t enough, Usman manages to throw in some percussion as well. The intro track is short and sweet, and is just enough to let other musicians know that this young man isn’t to be taken lightly.
The video for Firefly is aptly made: it features just Usman and his guitar as the only two stars of a show. The camera focuses on him and his guitar-playing skills, and although Bilal Khan and Shayan Agha have done a brilliant job at capturing the essence of this young musician, you realise after watching the video that this young man’s guitar skills can only be appreciated if you watch him perform live. It’s simply hypnotic to see his hands work along the guitar, and Usman utilises the instrument in the manner of a true maestro.
In only a short matter of time, the video has garnered more than 5,000 views on YouTube. By the looks of it that number will surely rise by the time you’re reading this. It’s interesting to see how social media is now helping the likes of Usman Riaz, who would or wouldn’t have been given the same exposure by TV channels. With YouTube, it’s not just Pakistanis who can see what this young man is capable of but the entire world.
Usman describes the second track, Fragaria Dreams, as a film score. The track does carry a protagonist’s motif in a grandiose story. There’s something about this track that makes you wonder whether you’re listening to a story unfold slowly. The accompanying orchestra also builds up the track to a whole new level of storytelling. It’s interesting how this track weaves a story and the beauty is that it is unique to each and every listener.
The final track of the album is Clouds before the Storm. A tad bit more optimistic than the previous two tracks, Clouds… is again crescendos and soft passages mingling together, accompanied this time by a proper band. Much like the two tracks before this one there is a lot going on here. The complex composition of the guitars is supported by the band which doesn’t try to keep up with Usman, just merely support his skills.
In the end, Usman Riaz has done more musically in three tracks of just over 12 minutes running time than many established acts have done all of last year. Though the album is a treat, it is a mere teaser of what this musician has to offer. The only way to truly appreciate his music is by watching him perform live. In person, Usman’s talents come alive from behind speakers and mp3 players. The album itself makes for great listening no matter what you do: drive, relax, read or ambient music.
Usman Riaz’s Flashes and Sparks is a modern-day masterpiece of guitar-playing. The album is short and sweet and delves deep into the world of this musician. It’s just him in his world and one feels tremendously proud to have glimpsed it.