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Stelios Petrakis, Efren Lopez, Bijan Chemirani
Mavra Froudia
Musiepoca (

Ages ago, it seems, (or perhaps when we were of younger mind) the world used to be a place where magic dwelled, and one could wield supernatural forces to manipulate the natural world: sticks could turn into snakes, rabbits could appear from an empty hat, and a clever man could make something other than our wallet vanish right before our very eyes. However, in today's times, few believe in a sense of magic that is not manipulation.  These days, the closest we get to magic is in some modified definition of the concept of magic: things happening in ways for which there is no decent explanation. For example:
  "How is it that my car keys can just disappear?"
  "Where does the raw material of a McDonald's hamburger patty come from?"
  "How does congress get re-elected?"
   Magic, my friends.

Certain music can have an enchantment upon us that seems magical, in that we might not know exactly why we're drawn to it, but we are.  It is more than just the exotic rhythms, tones, and instrumentation in Mavra Froudia that give it allure.  With the exception of one traditional tune from Karpathos, this release features seven new compositions from Bijan Chemirani, Stelios Petrakis, and Efren López, set for a wide array of instrumentation. Their music writing is heavily influenced by the principles of various folk music styles they've devoted their lives to playing, but also richly flavored by their own creative energies.

The album's breadth of instrumentation, composition styles, and atmosphere will take a long time to outwear.  Perhaps the fact that song titles use four different languages is an indicator of the broad world of the ideas that prompt their muses. “El nuvol d'Oort,” is a tune inspired by the theories of Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, and although “Hortus Deliciarum,” has a rhythm based in Pontic music, it was written in honor of Hieronymus Bosch, a medieval painter who created some of the earliest and most well-known illustrations of the vielle à roué – the French term for Hurdy Gurdy that is the composition's central instrument. The trio Chemirani/ López/Petrakis prove that they are magi of a musical kingdom whose focal point may be the Mediterranean, but also has strong footholds from Western European turf, all the way to Afghanistan.

In the end (and as history often shows), their work is not magic, but an act of fine craftsmanship. Although one finds odd meters in “Hortus Deliciarum,” “A.A.A.A.A.A.A.,” and “El nuvol d'Oort,” (9, 7, and 5-beat cycles, respectively) Mavra Froudia's other tracks are based in time signatures more common to western music.

Each successive listen unveils a little more of the care involved in their processes:

  • López's creation of wonderful melodic runs on the laouto and bulgari in the open spaces of the melody in "Mavra Froudia," harmonizing in stereo to different subdivisions of the main beat.
  • The steel string microtonal harmonies & fretless guitar work of “Üç Telli.”
  • The delicate but flashing articulations on Petrakis's lyra in “Syvritos.”
  • Chemirani's flock of fingers and inexhaustible rhythmic variations on the Persian zarb, most noticeably in the 5-beat cycle of “El Nuvol d'Oor,” which ends up building a whole new platform from which to introduce the tune's final melodic sections.
  • The rondeau form of “A.A.A.A.A.A.A.,” led by the Afghan rebab, where every new melodic verse covers different terrain, re-contextualizing the main motif.

A good portion of the appeal of their instrumental music comes from creating or reciting melodies that seem to travel places and have stories to tell. Their level of refinement shows each player knowing how to work with and embellish the other, and at the same time, move the tune along, changing the atmosphere as they see fit. In that way, each track's arrangement turns pages of the musical story effortlessly from moment to moment. Even two years after its initial release, the stories and “magic” of Mavra Froudia can stand out as regularly-played gems in one's music collection. - Seth Premo

Further reading and listening:

The Stelios Petrakis Quartet filmed in performance at WOMEX 2013 in Cardiff, Wales by Michal Shapiro.

Kevin Seddiki & Bijan Chemirani: Imaginarium
Trio Chemirani: Invite
Henri Agnel, et al - Istanpitta: Danses Florentines du Trecento
Urna: Amilal with Djamchid Chemirani and Keyvan Chemirani
Bijan Chemirani with Ross Daly - Gulistan

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