Azam Ali - Elysium for the Brave
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cd cover Azam Ali
Elysium for the Brave
Six Degrees Records (www.sixdegreesrecords.com)

Azam Ali has one of those voices that words like "exotic," "hypnotic," "mesmerizing" and "sensual" could go a fair distance toward describing. She was born in Tehran, lives in Los Angeles and has collaborated with an array of artists in addition to having her voice heard on numerous movie and television soundtracks. Perhaps best known as half of the duo Vas alongside percussionist Greg Ellis and the voice of Niyaz, an outfit blending Persian Sufi mysticism and modern sounds, Ali has also released a previous solo album, 2002's Portals of Grace. Throughout it all she's shown an otherworldly knack for singing in multiple languages (including some of her own invention) that turns those aforementioned descriptive words into mere surface-scratchers.

Elysium for the Brave (the title refers to the belief that there's an eternal reward for those who persevere), is the second release under her own name. Musically, it takes the same ancient/modern approach as Ali's work with Niyaz. Lyrically, it's the first time she's written and sung predominantly in English. The general feel is mainly reflective of Ali's Persian roots, with most of the tracks settling quickly into a characteristic rhythmic pulse that thankfully doesn't meander much. An exception is "The Tryst," a suitably airy interlude in which Ali's trembling, silken tones seem to dissect every word and phrase. Otherwise, tracks like "Endless Reverie" and "I am a Stranger in This World" give the endlessly captivating vocals a swaying, undulating groove in which to radiate, employing not only programming and synthesizers but the warmth of acoustic instruments as well.

Two songs feature words "created" by Ali, which is to say she is once again displaying her way of connecting emotionally through languages of her own concocting. It's an effectively recurring trademark of Ali's, but the English vocals are likewise enveloped in beauty that's alternately mighty and fragile. An album of numerous virtues, Elysium for the Brave works so well primarily because everyone involved with it seems to understand that the voice of Azam Ali doesn't need excessive techno juice to work magic. Modern though it may be, it's underlying foundations of voice and rhythm are what really make it essential listening. - Tom Orr

CD available from cdroots

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