Quraishi - Mountain Melodies: Rubab Music of Afghanistan

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Mountain Melodies: Rubab Music of Afghanistan
Evergreene Music (www.evergreenemusic.com)

At times like these, when we are reminded that even comedy (“The Interview”) is an at risk art form, recordings such as this are welcome. Mountain Melodies showcases Afghanistan's national instrument, the rubab, a short-necked plucked lute with sympathetic and drone strings. It is welcome because war and the Taliban took a heavy toll on Afghanistan's artistic traditions, so any evidence of the music's resurgence seems like a stand against recent repression.

The Afghan-American artist is self-taught on the rubab, and familiar with regional ethnic styles of his home country; including Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hindustani traditions. Nine tracks comprise Mountain Melodies, Quraishi's second release, and he includes Afghan folk songs, a classical raga, and composed tunes.

With a nod to classical Afghan court music, one expects a certain formalism or stylized presentation. This approach is more meditation than performance, and more mechanical than impassioned. The result is unfortunate since an exploration of the instrument and Afghani regional modal music seems the target that Quraishi made for himself. The recordings are technically proficient and as art music, he offers a sense of what may be forthcoming from Afghanistan's musicians. IN that regard, I regret being less than ebullient about this recording.

"Negaar" is a satisfying opener, but followed by "Tears" and "Kerwhani" (each a are fine tune), there is a cumulative effect, a mood that feels repetitive. It's a shame, because I love hearing modes and ragas from the Middle East, Indian, and Central Asia. Here, I find myself wanting something more; more diversity perhaps, or more dynamic structure among the tracks, or even more spontaneity. The more I listen to Mountain Melodies, the more I sense a missed opportunity for a terrific album.

Quraishi also presents the folk songs “Jun Garna,” “Wardagi,” and “Chargul,” songs he learned from his father, and presents them as instrumentals. Why, I wonder, was a vocalist not found to add the words to these? It may seem a small point, but it might have added needed texture to the recording; doubly so, since these are the songs he learned from his father and he includes them for the influence they have had on him.

I would leap to hear Quraishi perform in concert and suspect a live performance would reveal the passion that this studio recording lacks. Mountain Melodies is pleasing, but feels like a tease with greater possibilities. Something as basic as well-done and informative notes ought not be neglected on an instrumental album such as this, as they help a listener appreciate the music. - Richard Dorsett

"Composition in Raag Desh" live at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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