Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Bit of Late Night Music

Lady playing kamancheh

There are some records you know you’ll love the first time you lay eyes on them. The one I share in this post is one such. I picked this album up in a second-hand shop in Sarajevo in early 1999. As soon as I saw it I grabbed it. No hesitation. I love ghazals, and the romance of the Silk Road conjured by the title was too much to resist. That this is, in fact, not a collection of ghazals, that most loved of all Hindustani poetic forms didn’t bother me because what it was, was something unexpected and elegant.

Ghazal is the name of a musical collaboration between Iranian/Kurdish kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor and Indian sitar player Shujaat Hussain Khan and tabla player Swapan Chaudhary.  All three musicians are recognized maestros of their instruments with CVs that shine with distinction and achievement. As Night Falls on the Silk Road is their much lauded second album.

What strikes you about the music of Ghazal is how organic it sounds.  The blending of folk and classical elements from both India and Persia doesn’t come across as contrived ‘fusion’ but absolutely true. As if this music was part of an ancient repertoire not recently confected. The playing is superb, understated and controlled and creates the perfect atmosphere. With three master instrumentalists  gathered together in a studio, the risk for gratuitous displays of virtuosity is always high. But Ghazal eludes danger by weaving an understated yet masterful collection of stringed melodies. The tabla sets the foundation and drives the music forward, at times to great peaks of intensity but always in the end is comforted by the forlorn and evocative singing of Shujaat Hussain Khan. Indeed, it is his vocals that are the special ‘something else’ that shifts this album from merely good to genuinely great.

Some have found the overall tone of As Night Falls on the Silk Road a bit moody. I couldn’t disagree more. Whether it is solace you seek or joy, this album, played in its entirety, especially after the sun has disappeared for another day, will not disappoint.

                        Track Listing:
1.     My Eyes, My Heart
2.     Between Dawn and Dawn a New Truth
3.     Snowy Mountains
4.     Traces of the Beloved

Listen here                

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