This new quartet truly merges many musical elements: Middle Eastern melodies, harmonies and rhythms, and Western fusion and progressive rock arrangements, and even some Latin and Celtic themes. Stickist Nima Rezai’s compositions explore all of these influences and his playing recalls traditional instruments from these genres, while paying homage to his teacher, Bob Culbertson, whose playing is frequently echoed in Rezai’s own technique and phrasing. A high-energy ensemble of drums (Brad Ranola), sax (Dan Heflin), guitar (Randy Graves) and Nima’s Grand Stick, Merge delivers tightly performed, highly developed compositions, with the added sonic dimension of guest performances on flute, violin, saz, tabla and many other nonwestern instruments. Their unique sound is diverse and very accessible, with an emphasis on the tunes and arrangements first, placed in lush production setting and peppered with some fiery solos. Nima’s EMG and MIDI-equipped Grand Stick covers a lot of ground, but there’s plenty of room for his bandmates to explore. This is a Stick record that is all about integrating the instrument into a band setting, with The Stick serving Rezai as a compositional and performance focus simultaneously.