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Kayhan Kalhor, Mohammad Reza Shajarian et al.
Night Silence Desert
Traditional Crossroads (

cd cover Kayhan Kalhor composed Night Silence Desert - Khorasan Suite to pay homage to his love of the folk music of northern Khorasan as well as folk music's historical contribution to the Persian classical tradition. He accomplished this by composing for a large instrumental ensemble featuring Persian classical instruments (kamancheh, setar, barbat, santur, tombak, tar, cello, and nay) and folk instruments (dotar, ghooshmeh, and daiyreh) and most importantly, the Khorasan-born vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian. Shajarian is a master of the Persian classical tradition who is also well versed in Khorasan folk music. He completes the instrumental composition and helps make this album a superlative collaborative effort. Kalhor took advantage of studio technology to introduce some special effects, such as multiple kamanchehs and Shajarian singing a duet with himself. Night Silence Desert features a wide selection of pieces with an unusual range of orchestration. At the heart of this suite are the four vocal movements, all set to text of a lover's agony (whether it is profane love or sacred love is ambiguous as often is the case in Persian poetry).

I group the ten movements in this suite roughly into three sections. The first four movements comprise the most coherent section. "Silence of the Night," an opening prelude, begins softly with the barbat playing a theme full of portent. It promises explosive passion with its slow and restrained plucking, creating tension that will grow throughout the suite and only be completely released in the final movement. The barbat is soon joined by the setar to repeat the theme in unison. The cello is heard underneath heightening the sense of mystery. This prelude grows into a rhythmic ostinato sustained by the cello in the second movement, "Desert," while the kamancheh is introduced singing a plaintive melody above. Several kamanchehs continue the melody as the tempo increases slightly. The music continues unbroken into the third movement an unmetered instrument and vocal. The multiple kamanchehs fall away until there is just the one before the desert night is set afire by Shajarian's voice. The passion has arrived. His intense lyricism is matched by the kamancheh in a duet that bleeds passion over the rhythmic ostinato. Towards the end the ostinato grows in volume as the final cries of the kamancheh die out. Percussion with the tombak and daff is added as the music becomes the fourth movement "Desert Night." The setar, barbat, and tar assert themselves with a strong unison statement of the opening theme. Desert night concludes this section with essentially a repeat of the opening movement, but more forceful and with the percussion.

cd cover The second section features the folk instruments prominently with the fifth movement, "Rain," which begins with the double reed ghooshmeh. Two ghooshmehs alternate between playing melody and supporting the other with a drone several times before being replaced by Shajarian who sings in duet with himself, echoing the two ghooshmehs by alternating melodies (left and right in stereo). After this lengthy and haunting introduction, the strings and percussion join Shajarian in a metered song, with a powerful daf-lead motif following the end of every verse. This is followed by the sixth movement, "Festive Occasion," a dance instrumental that most strongly represents the folk music of Khorasan. It begins with percussion and the melody in the strings, kamancheh, and the gooshmeh in turn.

Two instrumentals follow the second section, the first for dotar and the second for setar. I find these two beautiful pieces work as intermezzos, providing a bit of relief before the great passion of the penultimate movement and the climactic third section. Perhaps they also work as a transition between folk and classical traditions with the folk dotar giving way to the classical setar. In the ninth movement, an unmetered improvisation for voice and kamancheh (saz va avaz), Shajarian and Kalhor follow a more strict classical interplay, with Kalhor's kamancheh echoing Shajarian's melody at the end of each phrase. The poet bleeds and you hear his cry in the night. The potent and intense melancholy of this movement is a specialty of Shajarian and one of the strongest features of the Persian classical tradition, but it is almost too great to endure. This is well acknowledged by Shajarian and Kalhor, which is why they end the piece with a tasnif, "Lovers' Plight," all the strings, folk and classical, are present in this uplifting rhythmic piece, as Shajarian implores the lovers (and the listeners) to let go of their agony, for the sun will rise after this desert night. - David Dalle

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