Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Kronos Quartet Explore Spare, Haunting Iranian Themes with Singers Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat

Today’s album is Placeless, by the Kronos Quartet with singers Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a frequently austere, often haunting Farsi-language song cycle exploring themes of displacement and alienation. It’s an inventive blend of Iranian, Indian and western classical sounds utilizing texts by Rumi, Hafez and more contemporary poets.

On the album’s first few tracks, the vocals are front and center, strings a little further back in the mix, rising up in the later numbers. The title track has a dramatic, melismatic crescendo bookended by tense, shivering ambience. My Ruthless Companion has spare, dancing, catchy looped phrases over a jaunty, strolling groove. With its achingly gorgeous resonance, My Tresses in the Wind is a ghazal, more or less, and the high point of the record.

Spiky, marching pizzicato and unsettled, hazy washes of sound alternate in I Was Dead, up to a cold, mysterious ending. Cellist Sunny Yang and violist Hank Dutt’s spare, plaintive lines rise and dip amid violinists David Harrington and John Sherba’s airy textures in the woundedly anthemic, Russian-tinged ballad Endless Embrace.

Misled Fate is a completely unexpected, steady, minimal theme with echoes of both Appalachian folk and new wave music. The Sun Rises has spare, ambient strings behind the two singers’ starkly brooding conversation, vocals panned left and right in the mix, their voices finally handing off to the quartet’s similarly plaintive, slightly baroque harmonies at the end.

Likewise, Vanishing Lines, a lush, striking waltz, comes across as a mix of elegantly medieval European and moody Iranian sounds. The Might of Love has a dancing pulse underneath one of the album’s sultriest vocals. The singers and strings return to uneasy, close-harmonied atmospherics in Far Away Glance and raise the unsettled intensity in the crescendos of Leyli’s Nightingale.

The ensemble alternate between occasional emphatic chords, shifting washes of sound and unexpected pauses in The Color of Moonlight. Angst-fueled, acidic swirls from the strings contrast with the often tenderly impassioned, anthemic vocals of Lover Go Mad. They close the album with Eternal Meadow, an allusively majestic, modal melody awash in disquieting echo effects. The Kronos Quartet have put out an awful lot of good albums, going back almost fifty years; this is one of the best.

April 14, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listen to the Banned Represents Freedom Fighters Around the World

This is an album about defiance, and hope. The Listen to the Banned compilation has been out for over a year in Europe and now it’s America’s turn to catch on, and we hope it will. The unifying concept here is that all these songs were written and performed by musicians who courageously stood up to fascists and racists and paid the price – sometimes with their livelihoods, some were tortured and others forced into exile. So far none of these artists has paid with his or her life. They may fight racism, religious extremism and African dictators, but their common enemy is stupidity. The common ground between them speaks for itself: it’s hard to imagine a more multicultural, or more universal album than this one. And this isn’t  just a collection of polemics: from the viewpoint of a western listener who probably won’t be fluent in Pashtun, Arabic, Turkish or Persian, it’s a fascinatingly eclectic mix of good songs, whose defiance translates powerfully in the voices of the singers.

Born in the US to renowned Zimbabwean musicians, Chiwoniso Maraire – formerly of popular 90s Zimbabwean band Andy Brown & the Storm offers the only English-language cut here, Rebel Woman, a tribute to freedom fighters that blends traditional thumb-piano sounds with Tracy Chapman-style folk-pop. Singing in French, iconic Ivoirien roots reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly delivers his excoriating signature song Quitte le Pouvoir (Resign from Power), complete with rapidfire Bone Thugs style rap interlude. Renowned oud player/singer Kamilya Jubran – former frontwoman of the courageous Palestinian new-music group Sabreen – is represented by an insistent, hypnotic electroacoustic number. The most musically powerful number here is by another extraordinary oudist, Marcel Khalife, driven into exile in Paris after being forced to stand trial for blasphemy in his native Lebanon. It’s a plaintively lyrical suite which illustrates legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Oh My Father, I Am Yusif, a metaphorically loaded parable of a village outcast.

Another great song here is Cameroonian singer Lapiro De Mbanga’s snidely funny, articulate Constitution Constipee, calling for Cameroonian tyrant Paul Biya and his gerontocracy to step down. Currently serving out a three-year sentence there for recording this, all he wants is a free election. The rest of the album attests to how engaging and entertaining music with a purpose can be. The late Uighur songwriter Kurush Sultan’s lush, orchestrated ballad Atlan Dok, a blend of Middle Eastern and Asian tonalities, builds to a richly orchestrated peak out of a foreboding intro. Palestinian chanteuse Amal Murkus offers a stunningly gentle, captivating version of a lullaby, performed mostly a-cappella. Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat, who refuses to submit to the tradition of performing only for other women, contributes the aptly titled Mystery, a gorgeous tone poem with vocalese, oud and ney flute.

Sudanese songwriter Abazar Hamid’s Salam Darfur – whose attempts to reform pro-Janjaweed women who sing racist anthems have sadly met with little success – offers an aptly titled, jypnotically peaceful anthem. Aziza Brahim, who hails from Western Sahara, sings a gripping, pounding, percussive number with biting minor-key acoustic guitar and sax in tribute to her people, many of them murdered and displaced by the Moroccan invasion of their land. Another Iviorien, Fadal Dey contributes Non au Racisme, a simple, catchy and musically witty roots reggae song. Turkish songwriter Ferhat Tunc’s contribution is a slinky, jangly, trip hop-tinged song; there’s also rhythmically tricky, crescendoing Middle Eastern pop from Afghan singer Farhard Darya and Pakistani Haroon Bacha. Many of the artists here have been featured at Freemuse, the valuable and important site devoted to musicians from around the world whose work has been censored or banned.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment