Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Major Historical Moment: Mohammad-Reza Lotfi Returns to New York After 19 Years

An important moment in New York music history: iconic Iranian multi-instrumentalist and singer Mohammad-Reza Lotfi played his first New York show in nineteen years at Symphony Space last night. In his native land, he’ll typically play to ten thousand people in a stadium. Here, a sold-out, remarkably mixed audience of both expats and Persian music fans from across the demographic spectrum greeted him with a standing ovation and followed with several more throughout a rivetingly terse, meticulously and matter-of-factly improvised show that lasted for about an hour and a half. Renowned as an innovator who fuses folk and classical idioms, as well as being one of the world’s great improvisers, Lotfi also founded the Shayda Women’s Ensemble choir. In case that might not seem like a big deal, consider the potential consequences of promoting women in music in an extremist Muslim theocracy. That group was originally on the bill, said a representative from the World Music Institute (who get credit for the coup of staging this concert) beforehand, but it wasn’t possible to obtain the necessary visas. As a result, Lotfi sang (in Persian) and played both tar and setar lutes alongside masterful, intuitive percussionist Mohammad Ghavihelm, who alternated between tombak (goblet drum) and a boomier frame drum.

The two took the concept of a one-chord jam to the next level. In classical Iranian music, these improvisations usually begin slowly and work their way up almost imperceptibly, to sometimes ecstatic heights. This one was often more allusive, yet also insistently intense and imbued with an unexpected humor toward the end. Lotfi led the way early on with his tar, adroitly and spaciously assembling a series of riffs (known as gushehs) that would become a theme and a springboard for variations throughout its roughly 45 minutes. Lotfi gave a clinic in dynamics, nimble filigrees alternating with rapidfire, incisively staccato hammer-on licks, taking the music down to practically silence in places before building back up with the next movement. As the piece went on, Lotfi would artfully leave a riff behind and then suddenly resurrect it fifteen minutes later, the recurrences growing closer and closer together as it gathered steam. Ghavihelm maintained a steady gallop while Lotfi built to a long, hypnotically clanging passage where he pedaled what would be called a major chord in western music: with natural overtones and just a hint of natural distortion penetrating the PA system, it sounded like the Velvet Underground but with infinitely more interesting (and more accurate) rhythm.

For the second part of the concert, Lotfi switched to the smaller setar. His vocals on the first piece had a gravelly gravitas, but by now he was warmed up, his nuanced baritone soaring over and then dipping below the rivulets and waves ringing from the strings. Ghavihelm soon put down the tombak and picked up the tar, leaning the drum over on its side just enough to produce a ghostly echo effect. The connection between poetry and music in classical Iranian culture is intrinsic, the intention often being to connect with the divine, and Lotfi’s slow, steady, hypnotically marching theme reached toward a rapt, rather optimistic ambience. The similarity between the classical music of Iran and India became most striking here. Lotfi eventually began a brief fugue of sorts, then a brief conversation with the drums, his voice taking on a resonantly imploring tone. And then, as if to surprise everyone, he suddenly put down the setar, picked up the frame drum and wound the piece out with a rather wry, playful processional.

By the way, the WMI has several other intriguing upcoming programs similar to this one, for fans of music from Cuba, Central Asia, the Middle East and more, extending into June; their calendar is here.

April 16, 2012 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trippy Persian and Global Grooves From SoSaLa

The new album Nu World Trash by SoSaLa a.k.a. Iranian-American saxophonist Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi and his brilliantly assembled ensemble is so eclectic and trippy that it defies description, a woozy blend of dub, Middle Eastern music and American jazz. Producer Martin Bisi expands his own inimitable vision with dark, Lee “Scratch” Perry-inspired psychedelic sonics as the group slips and slinks through grooves with roots in Morocco, Ethiopia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan and the south side of Chicago circa 1963. That’s just for starters.

The opening track is characteristic. Titled Ja-Jou-Ka, it’s ostensibly Moroccan, but it could also be Ethiopian, right down to the biting, insistent, minor-key riff and galloping triplet rhythm that emerges from A swirling vortex of low tonalities right before the song winds out with echoey sheets of guitar noise, Ladjevardi’s elegantly nebulous tenor sax lines managing to be wary and hopeful at the same time. Ladell McLin’s guitar and Piruz Partow’s electric tar lute combine for a distant Dick Dale surf edge on Nu Persian Flamenco, a catchy, chromatically-charged surf rock vamp with echoey spoken word lyrics by Ladjevardi. Classical Persian music is inseparable from poetry, so it’s no surprise that he’d want to add his own stream-of-consciousness hip-hop style: “Work like a dog, what for? I need something to cheer me up,” this clearly being it.

With a rather cruel juxtaposition between gentle guitar/flute sonics and samples of agitated crowd noise (and a crushing assault by the gestapo a little later on), Welcome New Iran looks forward to the day when the Arab Spring comes to the Persian world (it’s only a matter of time before it comes to the U.S., too!). A traditional song, Kohrasan begins with a pensive taqsim (improvisation) on the tar and then launches into a bouncy modern gypsy-jazz vamp: it seems to be an illustration of a fable. Vatan Kojai (Where Is My Country) morphs from a swaying, soaring rai vamp into a wailing guitar dub interlude, while Happy April Fool’s Day veers from off-kilter jazz, to Ethiopiques, to biting contrasts between McLin’s abrasive noise and Sylvain Leroux’s fula flute.

The onomatopoeic (say that three times fast) NY’s Sa-Si-Su-Se-So sets Massamba Diop’s hypnotic talking drums agains swirling sax effects and wah funk guitar over a hypnotic Afrobeat groove driven by bassist Damon Banks and drummer Swiss Chris. Sad Sake makes atmospheric acid jazz out of a Japanese pop theme; the album ends with the swaying, funky Everyday Blues, a gritty workingman’s lament: the guy starts every day with a coffee and ends it with a “small bottle of beer,” and he’s had enough (although a bigger beer might help). Eclectic enough for you?

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entrancing Persian Music at the Asia Society

Every year, it seems, the Asia Society casts a wider and wider net, bringing an astonishingly eclectic group of performers to New York. This spring’s concert series there is typical: on March 3 at 8 PM, Afghani rubab lute virtuoso Homayun Sakhi plays an adventurous program with sarodist Ken Zuckerman and percussionist Salar Nader. On March 16 at 8, there’s Javanese shadow puppet theatre by Ki Purbo Asmoro backed by a full gamelan orchestra, then on April 28, also at 8, Pakistani percussionist and pop star Arif Lohar leads an ensemble playing updated versions of centuries-old works. And while this past Friday night’s performance by Iranian multi-lute virtuoso Hossein Alizadeh with percussionist Pejman Hadadi was sold out, it was surprising that there weren’t more American kids in the crowd: what the duo played could easily be called psychedelia or trance music.

Since Iran is right in the center of the Silk Road, the melodies of classical Persian improvisation veer between the eerie microtonal modes of Arabic music and the hypnotic one-chord jamming of south Indian ragas. Alizadeh can be a very terse, direct player (especially when he plays in Masters of Persian Music with Kayhan Kalhor), but this was his expansive set. With Alizadeh playing the setar, the concert took awhile to get going but followed a deceptively intense upward trajectory and ended on a powerfully memorable, incisive note. In a lingering, warmly consonant, major-key mode, dynamics rose and fell, Alizadeh’s attack shifting from thoughtfully exploratory rivulets to explosive clusters of frenetic tremolo-picking, much in the style of an Indian raga, while Hadadi held the center gracefully, his fingers firing off intricate but steady flurries of beats from his frame drum. A martial beat appeared and then fell to the wayside as Alizadeh took the piece down, solo, to an almost minimalist sparseness and then back up again as Hadadi joined him. Throughout the concert, his approach was the opposite of rock music: rhythm following the melody rather than leading it.

The second piece picked up the pace and added melodic complexity, Alizadeh switching to the more resonant shourangiz lute. His variations on a falling four-note motif added intensity almost imperceptibly; finally, about halfway through, he began with allusions to bracing Arabic motifs which he drifted further toward as the duo went on, winding it up with a biting minor-key (or at least what would be considered minor-key to western ears) theme over which Hadadi took his one solo of the evening, a surprisingly suspenseful interlude that evoked distant thunder far more than fireworks. The concert wrapped up with a relatively short (less than ten-minute) piece, Alizadeh switching back to the setar and its more brittle, staccato tone that made a good fit with its the relentless, suspenseful insistence. Fingerpicking both chords and lead lines simultaneously, he built a bracing, apprehensive mood against Hadadi’s elegantly galloping beats, then took it up and out with a flurry of notes whose understatement fell just a hair short of outright anguish.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yet Another Transcendent Album from Kayhan Kalhor

As a founding member of the Dastan Ensemble, Ghazal Ensemble and Masters of Persian Music, Iranian composer and kamancheh fiddle player Kayhan Kalhor is in considerable demand as a collaborator: his 2008 album Silent City with string quartet Brooklyn Rider is one of the the highwater marks in music this century. Most recently, he’s recorded a somewhat different album, a suite titled I Will Not Stand Alone with bass santoor (a slightly lower-register Iranian hammered dulcimer) virtuoso Ali Bahrami Fard, due out on World Village Music on February 14 and streaming here. Like its predecessor, it is a transcendentally beautiful album, one that fits this era particularly well, never quite letting its undercurrent of anxiety lift despite the melodies soaring overhead. It’s a vivid, rippling, nocturnal work.

The question of how much of this was improvised and how much was composed is really beside the point. For the most part, the suite blends Fard’s ringing, cascading phrases with Kalhor’s sometimes plaintive, sometimes warmly sailing, often haunting sustained lines, silvery glissandos and his trademark echo effect, letting a phrase trail off elegantly into silence at the end. Fard’s precision is breathtaking, as is Kalhor’s. Playing a new instrument that he calls the shah kaman, Kalhor gets an especially breathy, raw tone here. Recorded in a space with immense natural reverb, the instruments mingle seamlessly to the point where it is sometimes hard to keep track of who’s playing what. As with much of classical Persian music, the scales hover between East and West, blending bracingly distinct Persian modes but also the warm consonance of western classical music. To call this cutting-edge is a somewhat of an understatement.

The suite begins with a lushly gorgeous, distantly Mediterranean-flavored theme, Between the Heavens and Me, opening with solo santoor: the Godfather obscured by an olive grove, perhaps. Kalhor eventually winds his way in, fluttering, taking turns with the Fard as each player shadows the other and then a brief, subdued conversation follows. As the piece segues into its second interval, Where Are You, it takes on a dirgelike sway and then grows more aggressive. A somewhat bucolic, energetic dance theme playfully titled The Laziest Summer Afternoon is then introduced, followed by the warily crescendoing, rather brooding Dancing Under the Walnut Tree. If that’s a dance, it’s less celebration than elegy.

Kalhor’s shah kaman then picks up the pace with an energetic insistence in the next movement, Hear Me Cry, which reaches a spiraling, whirling crescendo with Pluck a Star from the Sky. Then they return to a variation on the opening theme, Here I Am Alone Again: Kalhor’s stately, steady pizzicato interspersed among the rivulets rushing from the santoor establishes the work’s most haunting ambience. They close the album on an unexpectedly triumphant note, Kalhor’s resolute, rhythmic staccato rising against Fard’s muted tones. A vividly provocative evocation of the state of the world today, whether Kalhor’s or anyone else’s, this piece transcends categorization. Whether you prefer to call this world music, Middle Eastern music, classical or even jazz, it’s captivating to the point of being impossible to pull away from until it’s over. You will see this on a lot of “best-of-2012” lists at the end of the year.

January 30, 2012 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Azam Ali Brings Her Haunting Middle Eastern Lullabies to NYC on 11/22

Originally from Iran, singer Azam Ali is one of those extraordinarily eclectic musicians who’s equally at home with music from her native country as well as from Kurdistan, or Egypt, or Turkey, or probably anywhere else on the globe. Her most recent album From Night to the Edge of Day came out earlier this year; she’s at CUNY’s Elebash Hall, 365 5th Ave. on 11/22 at 7 PM and if Middle Eastern music is your thing, it’s a concert you shouldn’t miss. On the album, Ali plays santour and percussion; Loga Ramin Torkian, who put out the extraordinary Mehraab album with singer Khosro Ansari earlier this year, plays his usual collection of stringed instruments including kamman, lafta, guitar, viola da gamba and saz, and contributes his signature, swirling, lushly echoing production. The duo’s comfortable familiarity working together here makes sense, considering that that they’ve been the nexus of pioneering pan-levantine band Niyaz since the 90s. Multi-percussionist Omer Avci and frame drummer Ziya Tabassian propel the band with a stately, understatedly booming intensity, with Naser Musa on oud, Kiya Tabassian on setar, Ulas Ozdemir contributing electric saz on a couple of tunes along with a full string section and light, ambient electronic touches by Carmen Rizzo.

Ali has a full, round, wounded voice and uses it judiciously and effortlessly for maximum impact: she doesn’t overemote. The songs themselves are Iranian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Kurdish lullabies (along with a stunning original by Musa that could pass for a Mohammed Abdel Wahab classic). But these aren’t sleepy, happy songs: they seem to be meant to provide a heads-up about the difficulties that will arise in a future just over the horizon. The first track is like a symphony composed of layers of vocals, dark and European-flavored, with echoes of the central theme from Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The band follows that with an elegant, echoey, darkly hypnotic Iranian melody; Georges Iamman’s tersely wary Arabic violin opens the next song with an improvised intro before the drums come rolling in, bringing the rest of the orchestra along on a dreamy, otherworldly levantine vamp, Ali’s vocals gentle but resolute overhead.

One of the most gripping tracks here, Neni Desem, sets the stringed instruments rustling and clanking against a sepulchral drone as Ali also improvises her way in. It’s a tone poem with layers of vocals rising and falling, howling and pleading – and creepy. The centerpiece is Faith, a duet with Musa that sounds like classic Abdel Wahab with south Indian flourishes, oud and violin playing artfully off Ali’s vocals as she finally goes up the scale with some subtle Bollywood-style melismas. The fifth track, Shrin, also blends Indian and levantine influences, in this case from Azerbaijan. There’s also the slow Persian gothic Mehman (The Guest), strings quietly aching against the brooding, inscrutable vocals; a low, gentle, suspenseful vocal taqsim in over lush oscillating drone, which is actually the closest thing to a traditional western lullaby here; a Kurdish waltz with ethereal harmonies that evoke Bulgarian folk music; and a lushly ambient reprise of Faith at the end. Alongside Torkian’s album with Ansari, this is one of the year’s most original and captivating releases.

November 9, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/27/11

Hello from Halifax! Montreal was a blast; we’ll see what the Maritimes have in store for us. More about Montreal momentarily; in the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #582:

Kayhan Kalhor, Shujaat Husain Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri – Ghazal: Lost Songs of the Silk Road

This landmark 1997 cross-genre collaboration put “silk road music” on the global map. The medieval mercantile trail from Asia, through the Middle East, to Europe, brought a lot more than spices, fabric and luxury goods: it was arguably the world’s most important bridge for musical cross-pollination. Here, Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, one of the most important and compelling composers of this era, plays the kamancheh, the rustic, plaintive spike fiddle. Khan is a renowned sitar player, Chaudhuri a percussionist. Revisiting the centuries-old trail, they blend classical Indian and Middle Eastern sounds into a hypnotic, often haunting mix. The big epic here is the almost twenty-minute Saga of the Rising Sun, which is the most overtly Indian of the compositions; the concluding Safar (Journey) is the most Iranian. In between, the almost half-hour of Come with Me and You Are My Moon are a showcase for these great musicians branching out into unfamiliar territory and achieving mesmerizingly intense results. We were only able to find torrents for the whole album in two parts, here and here.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loga Ramin Torkian’s Mehraab Puts a New Spin on Classical Persian Music

Mehraab, the title of Iranian composer/multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian’s new album, means “shrine” in Persian. It’s an enormously successful attempt to play classical Iranian instrumental music through the swirling, hypnotic prism of dreampop and shoegaze rock. Musically, this most closely resembles Copal’s haunting Middle Eastern string-band dancefloor instrumentals; sonically, it’s remarkably similar to Huun Huur Tu’s landmark 2008 electroacoustic Eternal collaboration with producer Carmen Rizzo. Torkian takes care to mention in the liner notes that the electronics here are limited to how the instruments are processed, without any computerized backing tracks. Since all the instruments here are acoustic, the efx add welcome layers of sustain and reverb. Sometimes a riff becomes a loop; occasionally, the timbres are processed to oscillate or change shape as they move through the mix, dub style. Torkian plays a museum’s worth of stringed instruments, including but not limited to guitar, sax, baglama, viola da gamba and rabab, accompanied by Khosro Ansari on vocals (singing in Farsi) and a small army of percussionists including Omer Avci, Zia Tabassian, Mohammed Mohsen Zadeh, Azam Ali and her bandmate Andre Harutounyan.

The songs are dreamy, windswept and often haunting. The opening instrumental, Gaven (The Wild Deer) works an apprehensive descending progression in the Arabic hijaz mode, lutes and strings over reverberating layers of percussion and an astringent viola da gamba passage. Az Pardeh (Through the Wall) contrasts a matter-of-fact lead vocal with a somewhat anguished, hypnotic drone playing tensely against a central note, in a stately 6/8 rhythm. Golzare Ashegh (Garden of Love) establishes a sense of longing with its austere arrangement and dreamlike ambience; Chashme Jadu (Your Bewitching Eyes) is absolutely bewitching, in a creepy way, ominous astringent atmospherics over echoey clip-clop percussion.

With its subtle oscillations working against a distant, reverberating loop, the title track brings to mind a Daniel Lanois production, a simple, memorable, ringing motif circling through the mix. It’s the first part of what’s essentially a suite, segueing into Parva (Compassion) with its dub echoes and trancelike flute. Souz-El-Del (The Burning Heart) is the most rhythmically tricky piece here, a forest of lutes and what sounds like a kamancheh (spiked fiddle) doubling the dark levantine melody – it’s an absolutely gorgeous, sweepingly majestic, haunting song. They go out with a tersely wary, cello-like string theme. Simply one of the year’s most captivating and haunting albums.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Galeet Dardashti’s Hypnotic Songs Push the Envelope

Galeet Dardashti’s new album The Naming celebrates women throughout history who broke the rules. Dardashti herself is both a pioneer and a traditionalist in Jewish music. She serves as cantor at her Brooklyn synagogue, a role traditionally reserved for men (such as her grandfather, a star in Iran whose popularity transcended his outsider status in a predominantly Muslim culture). With soaring vocals in Hebrew, she sets tales from the Talmud, Bible and Midrash to hypnotic Middle Eastern grooves blending elements of Persian, Jewish and Egyptian music. She’s assembled a first-rate cast of New York musicians around her: violinists Megan Gould and Lila Sklar, cellist Eleanor Norton, percussionist Matt Kilmer, bassist Yossi Fine and hammered dulcimer wiz Max ZT (of psychedelic instrumental combo House of Waters), who build alternately lush and austere textures behind her sometimes hushed, sometimes spectacular voice.

The first track connects the dots between Michal, wife of King David, who like her male counterparts would use tefillin prayer beads, just as Dardashti’s childless aunt Tovah did in Iran some millennia later. It opens with a ululating vocal taqsim over an ambient drone, building to an imploring, Fairouz-style ballad evocative of Natacha Atlas’ recent work, a feel echoed in the equally hypnotic title track. Hagar/Sarah is a slinky levantine dance number with staccato strings over Kilmer’s trance-inducing clip-clop percussion. Sheba celebrates the queen’s spirited seduction of Solomon with a rousing, dulcimer-driven groove. The dulcimer opens the terse, distantly Indian-inflected Dinah with a pensive improvisation; Vashti, a joyously syncopated dance number, commemorates the famously disobedient Persian queen. The album winds up on a high note with the impassioned, anguished Endora, a duet featuring Hazzan Farid Dardashti’s stern cantorial voice contrasting with all the Bjork-inflected swoops and wails. What’s not trance-inducing here is often exhilarating. Galeet Dardashti plays the cd release for the album on September 14 at 6:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge, including a performance by the Syren dance troupe.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Masters of Persian Music in NYC 2/18/10

A characteristically transcendent performance by one of the world’s greatest ensembles in any style of music. Classical music from Iran is almost inextricably linked to lyrics and poetry and for that reason its instrumentals are songs without words. Likewise, the voice serves as an instrument in the ensemble, joining the interplay as much as it leads it. Like any other established style of music, Persian music has its devices and tropes passed down through the ages: over there they call them gushehs. Over here we call them riffs.

Last night at NYU’s Skirball Center, the Masters of Persian Music played two riveting, practically hourlong suites full of them, the first an improvisation, the second composed pretty much all the way through. The jam, said kamancheh (spike fiddle) player and composer Kayhan Kalhor, was dedicated to a friend who’d just lost a family member. For this set he played a darkly resonant five-string kamancheh alongside his fellow luminary and longtime bandmate Hossein Alizadeh on jangly, clanging shourangiz lute. The two began slowly, mournfully, climbing to what became a funeral march, working the tension between two adjacent notes into an apprehensively memorable, interlocking four-note theme (a westerner might say that the whole thing, both sections of it, was a one-chord jam, and in a sense they’d be right). Kalhor alternated cello-like low-register ambience with rapidfire upper-register work, frequently tapping out percussion or notes high on the fingerboard and making the most of his signature echo effect, bowing with less and less pressure until the notes seemed to be coming back under their own power. Meanwhile, Alizadeh’s right hand was a whirlwind of ferocious fingerpicking. They finally built to a raga-inflected dance, Alizadeh firing off a series of descending progressions that would have been right at home in the Ravi Shankar songbook. And then it was over. The second part of the jam grew more hopeful, rising to a majestic, heroic anthem pulsing along on Kalhor’s insistent low notes. It had a happy ending.

The second part of the show segued between compositions by both Kalhor and Alizadeh (both of whom had switched to smaller, more rustic instruments, in the latter’s case a traditional tar lute) and brief solo passages for kamancheh, tar and the sonorous nay flute of Siamak Jahangiry. Hamid Reza Nourbakhsh, a star pupil of Persian vocal legend Mohammad Reza Shajarian, lent his alternately sepulchral and frenetically ornamented baritone to lyrics by several noteworthy poets: Nima Youshij, Shafi’i Kadkani, Abou Said Abou Kheyr, Akhavan-e Sales, Molavi and Salman Savoji. Here the interplay and the riffage took centerstage when the vocals didn’t, Alizadeh introducing many of them and then returning sometimes several minutes later with their variations. There was plenty of call-and-response, as well as everyone including Nourbakhsh echoing or working their own version of another’s phrasing. With the additional low end provided by Fariborz Azizi’s bass tar and Pezhham Akhavass’s tombak frame drum, it was as if Alizadeh had been freed from carrying the rhythm and could now, as one would say in rock vernacular, “play leads.” Seamlessly and spiritedly, they made their way through a stately tribute to hope against all odds – out of self-preservation, no doubt, the group steered clear of anything that could be construed as overtly political – to a cynical anthem about hypocrisy, a swaying drinking song and a couple of hypnotic, circular anthems, the second closing the show with the whole group singing and playing its series of hooks in perfect unanimity. The sold-out crowd wouldn’t settle for giving them just one standing ovation – after getting another relatively brief mesmerizingly catchy, swaying number as an encore, they wanted more. Kalhor, clearly game, raised his eyebrows and looked around at his bandmates. Then the house lights went up.

Masters of Persian Music’s Spring 2010 US tour continues on Feb 19 at the Sanders Theatre in Boston; 2/20 at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland; 2/23 at Symphony Center in Chicago; 2/26 at the Ferst Center for the Arts in Atlanta and concluding on 2/28 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Adventurous listeners in these cities would be crazy to miss them.

February 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Monika Jalili – Elan

This might be the best world music album of the year, a frequently haunting, unabashedly romantic collection of popular acoustic songs from Iran from the era before the mullahs took over after the fall of the Shah in 1979 (to call what happened there a revolution is revolting). New York-born Monika Jalili comes from a musical theatre background, which makes sense when you hear her clear, minutely nuanced soprano, to which she’s expertly added the trademark ornamentation of Iranian classical song, using a delicate vibrato which often trills off at the end of a phrase for emphasis. The songs, mostly dating from the 60s and 70s, combine the austere microtonality of traditional Iranian music with the vivid emotionality of French chanson and a lush Mediterranean romanticism. Jalali sings in Persian and Azeri as well as English and French on two songs. The musicianship is equally nuanced and haunting: for this album, her second collection of songs from Iran, she’s enlisted the extraordinary New York-based oudist/composer Mavrothi Kontanis as well as his bandmate Megan Gould on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Riaz Khabirpour on acoustic guitar, Marika Hughes on cello and Silk Road Project percussionist Shane Shanahan. To call their performance inspired is an understatement.

Jalili communicates an intense sense of longing on the opening track, Ghoghaye Setaregan (Dance of the Stars), a jangly cosmopolitan ballad in 6/8 with incisive violin. Arezooha (Wishes) evokes 60s French folk-pop with sparse violin and cello behind Jalili’s subtle vocals. Gonjeshgake Ashi Mashi (Little Sparrow) is not a Piaf tribute but an upbeat take of an old folksong, done anthemically with some stirring oud work by Kontanis and the string section.

Ay Rilikh (Separation) is masterfully evocative, Gould’s violin dark and distant with reverb, a chilling contrast with Jalili’s warm interpretation. The upbeat, happy medieval folk dance Evlari Vaar (To Bemaan) has an almost Britfolk feel; by contrast, Biya Bare Safar Bandim (Let’s Be on Our Way) has a slightly Asian tinge, especially on the vocals. Kontanis’ oud holds it to the ground as Gould’s violin soars skyward, Jalili following in turn and then adding some spectacularly flashy vocalese at the end.

Peyke Sahari (Messenger of Dawn) builds to a crescendo with a haunting three-chord descending progression at the end of the verse, illuminated by a beautiful string chart that grows more insistent. The mood turns in a considerably brighter direction with the coy, percussive, bolero-ish Bia Bia Benshin (Come Sit by Me), Kontanis and Gould again taking brief but memorable turns on the bridge. The cd ends with its best song, the darkly swaying, dramatic Ay Vatan (Oh, My Homeland):

Freedom’s here, not in the distance
Oh, my land…
You’re the hero, oh this madness
Oh, my land,

Jalili wails delicately over Kontanis’ eerily swooping oud riffs. The ensemble takes it out with an elegantly fluttering, understatedly chilling conclusion. With the people of Iran uniting against the repression of the past thirty years, there could not be a more auspicious time for this album to come out: the anthem for the next real Iranian revolution could be on it. Watch for this high on the list of the best albums of 2009 here at year’s end.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments