Istanpitta: Danses Florentines du Trecento
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Henri Agnel, et al
Istanpitta: Danses Florentines du Trecento
Alpha (www.alpha-prod.com)

The history of the estampie is clouded by time. Music and dance historians have struggled over the years to piece together just how the dance and its accompanying music were performed. Fortunately for musicians, many written scores of estampies have been preserved and are available for interpretation. Henri Agnel and his quintet have brought to life a collection of Italian estampies from a late fourteenth-century manuscript housed at the British Museum. Agnel's arrangements play up the probable Middle Eastern connection to the music. Using Indian, Turkish, and Persian instruments as well as period European instruments, he creates a sound that is ancient at its essence yet has a modern appeal.

All of the instrumentalists here are adept at not just reproducing the sound on the page, but as improvisers. The pieces have a verse-refrain form and Agnel allows his musicians free rein on the verses. They jump to the challenge, but never exceed the bounds of taste. It's a team project that produces often thrilling results. Each track begins the same way, with a slow solo or ensemble improvisation, somewhat in the manner of the Indian alap. Here each musician has a chance to show what he can do. Henri Tournier's work on bansura (Indian bamboo flute) is warm with a liquid flow. Michael Nick plays quinton, a five-stringed violin with seven sympathetic strings. He makes full use of the instrument's rich tone quality. Percussionists Idriss Agnel on Brazilian udu and Indian gatam (clay pots) and Djamchid Chemirani on Iranian zarb (goblet drum) provide not just a driving rhythmic underpinning, but play some stunning solos as well. Agnel plays cittern, cetera, and oud. He has the humility not to hog the spotlight, though he has the skills to do so. His playing sparkles and dances through the shifting textures of his nimble arrangements. Agnel's fresh take on this ancient music will appeal to medievalists and casual listeners alike. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available from cdRoots

Further reading:
Stelios Petrakis, Efren Lopez, Bijan Chemirani: Mavra Froudia
Kevin Seddiki & Bijan Chemirani: Imaginarium
Trio Chemirani: Invite
Urna: Amilal with Djamchid Chemirani and Keyvan Chemirani
Bijan Chemirani with Ross Daly - Gulistan

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