Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Review---The Strings are the Thing

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Kayhan Kalhor
Brooklyn Rider
Silent City
World Village

I have over the years heard several recordings by Iranian kamanche master Kayhan Kalhor. The first recording to capture my ears was the recording, Rain by Ghazal which casted an enchanting spell over me. I have also heard his work with The Dastan Ensemble and his recording The Wind with Erdal Erzincan. Kalhor has proven not only his mastership over his exotic instrument, but also his adaptability to a variety of musical genres. That is not to say that he performs his instrument in a variety of genres, but that he fuses his tradition with those from other cultures. And since I have grown to admire Kahlor's work, I feel excited when I see his name gracing yet another CD cover.

On Silent City, once again we see Kalhor fusing Persian classical music with another music tradition--European classical meets the Silk Road. The musicians in Brooklyn Rider fall into an experimental-avant-classical style, that recalls Kronos Quartet. According to the press notes, "The origins of Silent City trace back to the summer of 2000, when cellist Yo-Yo Ma convened his fame Silk Road project at the Tanglewood Center at Lenox, MA. There three of the four gifted young musicians who would later form Brooklyn Rider-Colin Jacobsen, Jonathan Gandelsman, Nicholas Cords and later Eric Jacobsen--first encountered Kalhor while performing one of his compositions."

The story of how the musicians met, fused and recorded their musical traditions can be found in the CD liner notes. The story is as long and elaborate as the music that flows off the CD. The opening track, Ascending Bird resembles rousing gypsy meets Mongolian music and it contrasts with the moody title track that follows. The title track comes off as dissonant and desolate, which I am sure were the emotions the musicians were capturing at the time. I am reminded of a jazz recording, (which also speaks about a city lost to devastation), Terence Blanchard's A Tale of God's Will. Silent City runs over 29 minutes, which is not unheard of in either Persian or European classical music.

Even though I do not see it credited in the liner notes, you can hear the jangly sound of an Iranian setar on the third track, Parvaz (the setar is a sample from a previous work by Kahlor). The strings take on an exotic Silk Road sound. It builds slowly and gathers intensity, in the fashion of Silk Road classical tradition. Parvaz is the most beautiful of the four pieces that appear on the recording. The final track, Beloved, do not let me be discouraged possesses a haunting lyrical quality and it beautifully weaves the string quartet's instruments with the kamanche (spiked fiddle).

Silent City feels like pioneering work, despite the European classical-world fusion recordings already released by Kronos Quartet, cellists David Darling and Yo-Yo Ma. And in fact, Silent City acts as a new chapter for this type of cultural exchange. And I doubt discerning music lovers will grow tired of these fusion projects any time soon.

(not credited on the CD cover is Siamak Aghale on santoor).

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