Traditional Music of Azerbaijan
All titles from the "Traditional Music of Azerbaijan" series
There is a story about a sommelier who knows wines so well that he can drink a vintage today and predict how it will taste years from now. At maturity, he can identify the wine from his prediction. So, consider the influences on the music from Azerbaijan: its location between Europe and Asia on the Caspian Sea; a Turkic language; and centuries of Persian, Arabic and Russian musical influences, and you should be able to project its uniqueness.
These four sets from the Felmay label's series Traditional Music of Azerbaijan have a clear purpose in the repertoire of songs. They caught my ear immediately and grow in nuance with each listen. Sometimes traditional world music collections lack that certainty and you end up with a grab bag of regional sounds. Not here.
Dialogues with the Tar features Ramiz Guliyev on the Azerbaijani tar. As with the other musicians on these discs, Guliyev is a nationally known professional performer, steeped in the Conservatoire and with wide-ranging performing experience. His instrument is a long-necked plucked lute with an eight-shaped body whose form has developed over the last century. More strings were added to the tar and it is the iconographic Azerbaijani instrument.
Ramiz Guliyev "Gaytaghi"
The mughamat styles presented on Dialogues with the Tar are powerful improvisations. Most last five to eight minutes, long enough exhibit Guliyev's virtuosic skill and allow the tunes to serve as examples of type. Listen to Guliyev on the opening track, "Lullaby" (Fikrat Amiron), the frenetic "Gaytaghi" (Tofiq Guliyev) or the improvisational "Mugham Rahab" to get a sense of it all.
Ramiz Guliyev "Lullaby" (excerpt)
As a general rule, I prefer traditional music stripped down and don't usually enjoy it when it is mixed with chamber orchestras or other such arrangements. Here, the bulk of the tunes present the rawness I like, and the tracks with strings and other instruments add flavor without distraction. Listen to "Concert Piece" (Adil Babirov).
Ramiz Guliyev "Concert Piece"
Gochag Askarov's Mugham is a suite of four mughamat presented with an ensemble to accompany Askarov's vocals. It's a relatively young-ish group of musicians influenced by performers such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the WOMAD festivals of recent years, and Azerbaijani jazz. They offer a mix that features vocals and the tar, but also kamancha (string bowed instrument), naqara, gavel (frame drum), and balaban (double-reed instrument).
Gochag Askarov "Dastgah Zabul Segah" (excerpt)
There are two long tracks, "Dastgah Zabul Segah" (36 minutes) and "Mahur" (22 minutes). This allows their classical structure to be presented, but take the time to savor the vocals of Askarov. "Mugham Dilkesh and two folk dances" opens with the double-reed balaban and a very seductive rhythm.
Gochag Askarov "Mugham Dilkesh and two folk dances" (excerpt)
Azerbaijani Love Songs is a sixteen-track stylistic tour featuring a dozen vocalists that draws from the Azerbaijani folk melodies and themes created in the national bardic tradition. Curiously, even songs with known sources tend to leave off credits to the composers as they take on a modern folk process when they are passed along in an oral tradition.
Unlike the more traditional arrangements mentioned above, songs like "Gubania ag almasi" (White apples of Guba), "Yana-yana jul oleum" (I am burning to ash), and "Alagoz" (Grey-eyed) have more of the Middle East orchestral style showcasing the vocalist and his or her skills. All of these Traditional music of Azerbaijan releases include well-written, short track notes. On Love Songs, lyrics for those of us not speaking Azerbaijani would have been an added asset.
Nazaket Teymurova "Dastgah Kharij Segah" (excerpt)
Finally, Mugham (same title, different artist) features Nazaket Teymurova, a prima donna of the Azerbaijani State Opera. The showpiece here is "Dastgah Kharij Segah," a clinic (37+ minutes) of the quintessential Azerbaijani mugham. Segah, the liner notes explain, is one of the seven major Azerbaijani mughams. When I was young I was fortunate to hear Um Kulthum in her monthly radio concerts. While this is not quite Um Kulthum, there are some similarities, with traditional instruments including tar, kamancha, naqara, gavel, balaban, oud, kanun, and gosh a naqara supporting Teymurova's exploration of the mugham. - Richard Dorsett
Three full tracks from the series were featured on RootsWorld Radio #98.
Another CD from this series was featured as one of RootsWorld's Music of the Month features.
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