New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: iranian music

La Mar Enfortuna Lead a Haunting Guided Tour of Sephardic Music at the Jewish Museum

There was a point last night at the Jewish Museum where La Mar Enfortuna guitarist Oren Bloedow, playing a gorgeous black hollowbody Gibson twelve-string, hit an achingly ringing, clanging series of tritones. Violinist Dana Lyn answered him with a flittingly menacing couple of high, microtonal riffs. It was like being at Barbes, or the Owl, except on the Upper East Side.

That good.

For four years now, the Bang on a Can organization has been partnering with the Jewish Museum for a series of concerts that dovetail with current exhibits there. This time out, La Mar Enfortuna’s starkly beautiful Sephardic art-rock and reinventions of ancient Jewish themes from across the Middle East and North Africa were paired with the ongoing Modigliani show.

Since the 90s, Bloedow and his charismatic chanteuse bandmate Jennifer Charles have been the core of similarly haunting, sometimes lushly lurid noir art-rock band Elysian Fields. Likewise, this show built a dark but more eclectic atmosphere. At their quietest, bassist Simon Hanes – who otherwise looked like he was jumping out of his shoes to be playing this material – switched to acoustic guitar, for a spare duo with Bloedow on an ancient Moroccan song whose storyline was a possibly hashish-influenced counterpart to the Sleeping Beauty myth.

The band slunk through a salsa-jazz verse to a ringingly otherworldly, anthemic chorus on an original, Charles singing a lyric by Federico Garcia Lorca in the original Spanish. Bloedow, who was in top form all night as sardonically insightful emcee, noted that the band had played that same song just a few yards from where the fascists had taken Garcia Lorca into the underbrush and then shot him in the back.

Charles also sang in Farsi, Ladino and Arabic. The early part of the set featured more minimalist, lingering ballads; drummer Rob DiPietro sat back from his kit and played a hypnotic dance groove on daf frame drum on one of them. Matt Darriau began the set on bass clarinet; by the end, he’d also played a regular-size model and also bass flute, fueling the songs’ moodiest interludes with his sepulchral, microtonal, melismatic lines.

The closest to an over-the-top moment was when the band danced through the original Sephardic melody of a big Vegas noir ballad that’s been used umpteen times for Hollywood approximations of exoticism. The night’s most hypnotic song was another Moroccan number that strongly brought to mind Malian duskcore rock bands like Tinariwen. The high point was a slowly crescendoing original that rose to a mighty peak, fueled by Bloedow’s majestically resonating chromatic chords.

The Bang on a Can series at the Jewish museum continues on February 22 of next year at 7:30 PM with similarly otherworldly Czech violinist/composer/vocalist Iva Bittova and her ensemble; tix are $18 and include museum admission.

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Thrills and Transcendence at Tar Lute Virtuoso Sahba Motallebi’s New York Debut

Sahba Motallebi hit a sharp staccato chord on her Iranian tar lute. Then she paused, Then she hit another one. Then another pause, then another stilletto swipe. Then she lit into a seemingly endless flurry of righthand chord-chopping that made Dick Dale’s pick-melting intensity seem wimpy by comparison. A series of minutely nuanced harmonics, meticulously precise pull-offs and hammer-ons followed that. The crowd was silent, completely mesmerized. There is no rock guitarist, no oud player, possibly no musician anywhere in the world with such subtle yet fearsome chops on a fretted instrument.

That was the just intro to the fiery, ecstatically crescendoing birth narrative by the Teheran-born virtuoso at her sold-out New York debut at Symphony Space Friday night. She reprised that opening theme as a lively, peek-a-boo shout-out to her two young daughters at the end of roughly ninety minutes onstage, a duo set with another Iranian expat woman, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand. It’s impossible to imagine a more exhilarating, transcendent performance by another artist in this city this year. Back in the 90s in her native Iran, Motallebi generated a controversy that wouldn’t exist here by winning the Iranian setar showdown three years in a row – as a woman. Beyond sheer adrenaline, this was a raised middle finger at the Islamofascists who won’t let women perform unaccompanied by a man.

The set was a suite, more or less, the duo shifting dynamically through suspenseful, starlit intros to fiery peaks and then back down to spacious resonance with hardly any interruption. Other than a coy, B.B. King-style “if you like what you hear, we might play some more,” Motallebi barely talked to the crowd. She didn’t need to. On record, her compositions are ornate and meticulously, lushly orchestrated. Yet these more spare arrangements maintained that vast, epic sweep and majesty.

Motallebi is not shy about showing off her extended technique, yet made it part and parcel of the music without being ostentatious about it. Slowly sirening glissandos, hushed harmonic pings and whispers, and seemingly every microtone she could evince from the strings contrasted with her tireless tremolo-picking attack, every bit the more breathtaking for her precise command of it, a stunning combination of power and control.

Throughout the set, Motallebi juxtaposed pensively crescendoing improvisations with her originals, running the gamut of the emotional spectrum. An ecstatically edgy anthem celebrated Nowooz, the Persian new year. The woundedly apprehensive Chaharmezrab e Esfahan built to a guardedly triumphant coda, a salute to Mottallebi’s fellow female musicians from across the centuries. Meanwhile, Farahmand employed both tombak (goblet drum) and daf (frame drum), shifting with what appeared to be effortless good cheer through some tricky time signatures more common to Levantine or Indian music than the centuries-old Persian tradition. Much as the two’s performance was steeped in ages-old gusheh riffs and dastgah modes, these women left no question about their commitment to take this music into the 21st century and make it their own. There will be a “best New York concerts” page here at the end of the year and this one will be high on the list.

A Historic, Potentially Transcendent New York Debut This Friday by Sahba Motellabi

There’s a concert this Friday, Oct 21 at 8:30 PM at Symphony Space that could be as rewarding as it is historic. Iranian tar and setar lute virtuoso and composer Sahba Motallebi makes her New York debut in an intimate duo set with percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand, playing both traditional Persian classics and originals. $28 adv tix are still available as of today. This is the rare event that fans of both western classical music and the heavier side of rock music ought to consider.

Spend some time at Motallebi’s Soundcloud page and you’ll agree. The first track is an electrifying, lickety-split solo number, Birth. On the more pensive side, There’s A Tear At the Crossroad of Time, a stately elegaic theme spiced with flurrying setar, dynamically layered percussion and lush yet rawly emotive strings. There’s the lively yet ominous Do Asheghe Zar (Two Lovers), a hypnotically epic mashup of otherworldly spiraling Persian themes and icy trip-hop. There’s Chaharmezrab, a majestically pouncing, mightily orchestrated, uneasy illustration of how richly individualistic Iranian music can be, echoing the enigmatic modes of the Middle East, the moodiness of much of the Russian tradition as well as a distantly trancey Asian tinge. It makes your pulse race and your endorphins rush: it’s hard to think of another show anywhere in New York Friday night with as many pyrotechnics potentially in store.

This concert is especially noteworthy for reasons beyond awestruck beauty and thrills. See, in Iran, it’s illegal for women to be bandleaders, and also illegal for a woman to appear onstage unaccompanied by a man. Wouldn’t it be fun if she played just one number all by herself just to give the finger to the Islamofascists?

This concert is staged by Robert Browning Associates, who continue their decades of irrepressible, adventurous, often transcendent programming of similarly pioneering global acts. The next concert on their slate after this one is on November 19 at 8 PM at Roulette, where Andalusian ensemble La Banda Morisca perform “an intoxicating blend of traditional flamenco with Arab-Andalusian melodies and rock.” Tix are $25.

A Cross-Pollinated Gem from Katayoun Goudarzi and Shujaat Khan

Iranian-American singer Katayoun Goudarzi is known for maximizing the musical qualities in classical Persian poetry. Renowned sitarist Shujaat Khan plays in a very distinctive, cantabile style. So it makes sense that the two would complement each other well. Their cross-pollinated, epically hypnotic ensemble Saffron, with Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Ries, seems to be on hiatus, but that hasn’t stopped Goudarzi and Khan from putting out a similarly ambitious and magically enveloping new album, Ruby, streaming at Spotify. The rest of the group includes Ajay Prasanna on flute; Abhiman Kaushal on tabla; Ahsan Ali on sarangi; Prabhat Mukherjee on santoor and Amjad Khan on percussion.

The album comprises five tracks: four settings of Rumi poetry to resonant, slowly unwinding raga melodies, along with a single, thoughtfully sweeping instrumental. In typical fashion, Goudarzi approaches the lyrics – in Persian – meticulously, almost syllable by syllable. She has such nuance and command that she can channel any emotion she wants. In this case, that runs the gamut, but a vivid sense of longing, one that transcends the limitations of language, persists throughout these songs. Rumi’s poetry, like African-American spirituals or classical Jewish ngunim, often conflates the mystical with the carnal and Goudarzi makes that resonate strongly here. Yet there’s also a sense of restraint – she never reaches for a fullscale wail.

Likewise, Khan chooses his spots, staying close to the ground for the most part, leading the group – which also includes rippling santoor, stark sarangi, rustic bansuri flute and tabla – with a purposeful sway. The opening track, Adrift, begins with a long, pensive conversation between flute and sarangi, then gives way to the sitar and tabla. Goudarzi comes in, stately and precise and then rises with an angst that reflects the longing in the lyrics (thanks to Goudarzi for the English translation):

The curls of your hair have made my life very complicated.
Spread your hair on my completely disordered affairs

Clouded begins with a balmy sitar intro, then the tabla and flute enter judiciously, Khan introducing an artful echo effect as the raga-like procession goes on. Goudarzi speaks to a lovestruck regret: Rumi seems to be having special fun with the hangover metaphors in this number.

The slowly swaying instrumental Not Taken builds to meslimatic sitar crescendo and then a series of graceful exchanges with the sarangi. Whirling Tree establishes more of sense of unease amid the tranquility until Khan takes the music skyward, matter-of-factly and optimistically: it”s the most dramatic track here and a launching pad for some pretty pyrotechnic flurries from Khan and Goudarzi’s dynamic, insistent delivery. The final cut, Bound addresses themes of absence, longing and perhaps exile via Goudarzi’s anthemic sensibility and minutely jeweled vibrato matched by Khan’s spacious, considered lines. It’s an appropriate way to wind up an album in an age of refugees and shortage of refuge. While the album’s distinctive, classically Indian sound will strike most western listeners right off the bat, this ought to resonate with devotees of Rumi and fans of lushly poignant music in general.

The Dastan Ensemble Put on an Unforgettable, Intense Performance in Brooklyn

Arguably the best concert in any style of music in New York this year took place when the Dastan Ensemble brought an alternately stately, somber and exhilarating mix of new and ancient Iranian music to Roulette Saturday night. The esteemed four-piece group, which has been through a few lineup changes over the years but remains undiminshed in vision and intensity, was joined by up-and-coming singer Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, making a riveting and powerful New York debut.

Throughout the show, the group’s acerbic, often biting riffs and fiery flourishes were simple and vivid, closer to the tonalities of the western chromatic scale than the exotic microtones of Arabic music, although those appeared from time to time when the sound became the most ghosly and otherworldly. Hamid Motebassem, on tar lute, fired off bristling volleys of notes when he wasn’t trading licks with kamancheh fiddle player Saeed Farajpouri, whose own lines were more allusive and airy. Percussionist Pejman Hadadi got the crowd roaring both with his dry wit and his colorful but carefully crafted, intricately individualistic playing on a six-piece kit composed mainly of boomy tombak drums. Hossein Behroozinia played barbat (the Iranian oud) with a judicious, often white-knuckle intensity, like-minded consideration and purpose.

Motebassem contributed the absolutely haunting suite A Window, an epic, plaintively cresendoing work utilizing poetry by Forough Farrokhzad. Hadadi explained the 1960s firebrand poetess’ lyrics as embodying an ultimately hopeful vision for the equality of men and women:. Baseline prerequisite for human civilization, maybe, but not a concept one might necessarily think of originating in Iran. Then again, for centuries during the Middle Ages, that nation was the intellectual capital of the world.

When Mohammadkhani first joined in, she was so quiet as to be practically peeking in from the mix. Was this a fault of the sound system? No. She was establishing herself on the whispery end of a vast dynamic range, her meticulously melismatic inflections finally rising to a dramatic, explosive peak during the final minutes of the show. Throughout her many rises and falls, poised on her chair with a gentle confidence, she was impossible to turn away from. Meanwhile, the music rose from a stark, wounded dirge to an uneasy gallop. Long, slinky, downwardly trailing passages gave way to gripping round-robin solos, a purposeful stroll, then back to severe and up again, Mohammadkhani channeling raw outrage, defiant triumph and just about every emotion in between.

The second half of the program featured a similarly dynamic set of instrumentals by Behroozinia, livened with plenty of interplay, Farajpouri often delivering shivery swirls  in the same vein as Kayhan Kalhor, Mohammadkhani projecting with a gale-force power that drew the loudest applause of the night. They closed with the closest thing to a catchy pop song that they had – the expat contingent sang along – and encored with a brief, elegant improvisation on an enigmatic folk theme. Robert Browning Associates, who have been booking a terrific series of concerts by artists from around the world, have several other enticing shows coming up at Roulette. On October 3 at 8 PM there’s one of Spain’s leading flamenco guitarists, Antón Jiménez, On the 24th, also at 8 PM, west African kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso – a one-man orchestra of circular rhythmic riffage and intricate ornamentation – plays a rare solo show. Cover for each show $30/$26 stud/srs.

The Haunting, Mysterious King Raam Brings His Iranian Art-Rock Anthems to the Mercury

If you’ve heard of King Raam, believe the hype. The Teheran-based bandleader, who with the rest of his group plays pseudonymously, is sort of the Iranian Nick Cave. Who is this theatrical, intense Persian-language art-rock singer? He’s in his forties, born in the party city of Bushehr, and has been back and forth to the US several times. He’s collaborated with Johnny Azari and the late Ali Eskandarian, among others. He has a gram account, so it’s certain that the CIA and Mossad know who he is. He and the band are bringing their eclectic, often hauntingly artsy sounds to the Mercury at midnight on August 29; $12 advance tix are still available at the box office, open Tues-Sat from noon to 6 PM.

Iranian music in general tends to be very good and has been for centuries: even pop artists from the 60s and 70s like Googoosh are arguably more interesting and tuneful than their American counterparts. Most of King Raam’s latest album, A Day & a Year, is streaming at Soundcloud along with much of his ominously melodic, often psychedelic back catalog. The band doesn’t waste any time getting off to an powerful start with a slow, foreboding minor-key anthem, Pegasus, bringing to mind similarly brooding global acts like the Russian group Auktyon and Mexican legends Jaguares. The multitracked guitars roar, the keys twinkle uneasily and the drums have a big-room sound: a lot of care and smart production ideas went into this. English translations of the lyrics weren’t available as of press time, but consider that the song is about a winged horse and then do the math.

The moody Closing Credits (Titrazhe Payan), just pensive vocals and simple guitar arpeggios until the final crescendo, bears an even stronger resemblance to Jaguares and that band’s frontman Saul Hernandez‘s solo work. The album’s third track, Tehran has a wistful sway, part folk-rock as the Church might have done it at their peak, part Spottiswoode. The Church resemblance recurs, but more spaciously and sparely, in Distant Tomorrows, featuring guest crooner Makan Ashgevari. The Return follows, with a big, cinematic, rather triumphantly orchestrated sweep: it’s the most stadium rock-oriented track here. Its 70s folk-pop counterpart is Crosswind, one of the later cuts.

Missing Squares has a shuffle groove, surfy reverb guitars and a brass section – another Jaguares soundalike, more or less. A City Without Gates sets the spare quality of Tehran to a more propulsive, even catchier groove, with some of the album’s strongest vocals. The band brings things down with the echoey, dub-tinged piano-based Resurrection and then follows with Salvador, which rises from a rather upbeat, guitar-fueled neo-Motown drive to a swing groove and then pure Lynchian menace.

A Day Will Come is the most gorgeously jangly, bittersweet number on the album – it could be vintage early 70s Al Stewart with better vocals and production. Deja Vu, with its stomping drums, funk tinges and propeller-blade guitars, is a duet with Iranian blues artist Behzad Omrani.  The final cut is the echoey, muted piano ballad Since You’ve Been Gone.

In terms of pure tunefulness, this is one of the half-dozen best rock albums released in 2015. How horribly sad that the citizens of the nation that for centuries was the cultural capital of the world have been forced to literally go underground to enjoy music like this since the fall of the Shah (and he was no picnic either). And what a fantastic thing that artists like King Raam have made their way to the US. If anyone deserves asylum citizenship, it’s this guy and the rest of the guys who play with him.

Two of the Most Compelling Frontwomen in Middle Eastern Music at the Global Beat Festival

That Emel Mathlouthi could sing almost entirely in Arabic to a mainly English-speaking audience, hold them spellbound and then earn a roaring, standing ovation from a crowd of maybe a thousand people in the financial district last night testifies to her power to communicate and transcend boundaries. That, and her charisma. There’s nothing like leading a revolution to boost your confidence: the Tunisian-born Mathlouthi’s self-assurance resides in her power to move people and, maybe, effect change. She did that on her home turf, where her hit Kelmti Horra (Freedom of Speech) became an iconic anthem in the early days of the Arab Spring. And she took a mighty stab at it yesterday evening at the Global Beat Festival with music that was relentlessly dark, and heavy, and anguished, aching to break free.

Mathlouthi’s Arabic lyrics are crystallized but allusive and heavy on symbolism. Her tempos are slow, her ambience swirling and stormy. Her most recent album blended levantine sweep, alienated Pink Floyd grandeur and icy gothic production. Her set this time out was similar, heavy with new material from a forthcoming release. Mathlouthi likes her vocal and instrumental loops, nebulous atmospherics and a tapestry of textures. Over that somber backdrop – provided mainly via live syndrums and multiple layers of synthesized orchestration, much of that seemingly from pedals or a mixer – she sang with a white-knuckle intensity, holding back just thismuch from a fullscale wail. With that wounded delivery and a withering, dismissive stare, she projects a fearlessness largely absent these days: think Patti Smith, Penelope Houston or Siouxsie Sioux (or, for that matter, Umm Kulthumm). She underscored the unease and tension of several numbers by turning her back on the crowd as the music wound down, striding impatiently to face the rear walll of the stage, hands on her hips, defiant and resolute and very much alone.

Themes of homelessness, exile and an interminable wait pervaded the material. Even the calm of the title of Houdou’On was cut loose in waves of syndrums pounding at an invisible, all-encircling wall. Her voice became a bitter stained-glass tableau amid the funereal, cathedral-like sonics, witness to the world of turmoil and torment that she’d addressed head-on early in the show.

Niyaz frontwoman Azam Ali is no less charismatic, although her music is considerably more kinetic. The five-piece Persian-Canadian trance band’s forthcoming album The Fourth Light takes its inspiration from eighth century mystic and poet Rabia Al Basri, who is ironically an underrated figure in Sufism, the movement she created, simply because she was a woman. Ali explained that she and her group have always focused on music of minorities and opppressed peoples from Iran and the surrounding areas, so it was no suprise to find that the new album – much of which the band played – is dedicated to “The world’s greatest minority: women.”

Ali also tackled the issue of how much music sung in an unfamiliar language could possible resonate with a crowd that doesn’t speak it, reassuring them that ultimately, it makes little difference, to simply focus on the melodies. And the audience responded vigorously: by the end of the show, a circle of dancers had taken over the roped-off area in front of the stage. Ali varied her approach from song to song, from delicately soaring to forceful and resonant, especially when she dipped to her lowest registers over the wash of otherworldly textures from Loga Ramin Torkian’s stark kaman fiddle or electric oud, or the keys and mixers of Gabriel Ethier. This was the group’s first show with new tabla player Vineet Vyas, who built a groove spinning pointillistic trails of notes that mingled with the rippling, often ecstatic kanun of Didem Basar. When Ali wasn’t swaying and intoning in front of the group, building a dynamic that was equally mesmerizing and pulsing, dancer Tanya Evanson brought to life the figure of a woman straining against her chains and, at least it seemed, gaining her freedom. Is it ironic that women from some of the most misogynistic places on earth also happen to be some of the world’s most potent voices for freedom – or is that simply a consequence of the natural human reaction to tyranny and oppression?

The festival continues tonight, May 9 at 8 with a rare Honduran twinbill: surf rocker Guayo Cedeño & Coco Bar  and then Garifuna guitarist/songwriter Aurelio & the Garifuna Soul Band. The concert is free, but getting there early is a good idea. Logistically, your best and fastest bet is to go straight down Vesey St. and hang a left into the World Trade Center Path station, take the escalator down, follow the corridor around the bend under the West Side Highway and then up again into the “winter garden” across the street with its stage in the center of the building’s west wall.

A Rare, Must-See New York Concert and a Magical Album by Kurdish Tambour Lute Master Ali Akbar Moradi

Ali Akbar Moradi is one of the world’s foremost virtuosos of the Iranian tambour lute. Drawing on his heritage, his specialty is the Kurdish Sufi repertoire, although he’s also an esteemed composer and improviser. His latest album, Fire of Passion is streaming at youtube. The album title, in English anyway, is a bit of a misnomer: much of it is somber, spare, even otherworldly. Moradi will be airing out songs from it at an extremely rare American appearance with his son Kourosh on percussion on April 15 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25 ($20 for students). Since Moradi – who made waves recently by mentoring and playing on star chanteuse Bahar Movahed‘s most recent album- is iconic in the Iranian diaspora, the expat contingent will be out in full force, so get there early if you want a seat.

Much of what Moradi plays dates from a time when music was communal and participatory rather than spectacle: Middle Eastern chamber music for the 99 percent, if you will. So it’s no surprise that the album opens with a mantra-like, insistently prayerful solo tambour intro and then picks up as Moradi spins rapidfire, tremolo-picked lines introducing Songs of Nostalgia, the album’s most epic number. Its slowly swaying gravitas and intensity imbue it with an orchestral majesty, notwithstanding that the instrumentation is just tambour and percussion. As it slowly rises, Moradi and his percussionist join together in acerbic flurries, Moradi’s impassioned vocals – he sings in both Farsi and Kurdish – coming in about halfway through. It’s closer to minor-key western music than to the microtones of the Arabic world. And it’s incredibly catchy: try not to hum this to yourself after you’ve heard it all the way through.

Another epic slowly rises to a tensely strolling rhythm punctuated by rapidfire strums and whirling circles of eerie chromatics that make it easy to forget that it’s essentially a one-chord jam. It’s bookended by a broodingly hesistant solo instrumental that picks up steam the second time around and segues into Intimate Dialogue, a conversational piece for tambour and frame drum lit up with Moradi’s lightning tremolo-picking: Dick Dale has nothing on this guy.

The Caravan works a similar dynamic, blending a slowly swaying pace and a persistent drive evocative of a desert journey, literal or figurative. Moradi then segues into a spare, broodingly spacious number and then raises the intensity with a long, spikily rhythmic interlude. The album winds up with the aptly titled Gallop, a lickety-split coda and the album’s most memorable number. If the hypnotic grooves and edgy modes of Iranian and Kurdish music are your thing, miss this concert at your peril.

And not to flog a dead horse, but if the United States goes to war with Iran, this is what the world loses.

Sunday Singles

It’s not like any of these songs will ever get stale – they’re all good – but they’ve been sitting around here for awhile. So enjoy!

Vatan play propulsive, hauntingly shuffling Persian folk-rock. Check out those gorgeous chromatics, the lush web of tar lutes and Mona Kayhan’s cool, slow-burning vocals on their single Niloufar, at bandcamp.

Field Report’s Decision Day is acoustic and Steve Earle-ish, a little heavyhanded lyrically but the tune is catchy and builds anthemically. “Now you and I are free to extricate ourselves from the mud,” via soundcloud.

CTMD honcho Pete Rushefsky is also an accomplished player on the hauntingly rippling tsimbl, the Ukrainian Jewish dulcimer which is the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom. His show a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum with a couple of violinists (and his similarly talented wife on flute and vocals) was off the hook. Here he’s playing Joseph Moskowitz’s Oriental Movement #1 (youtube).

And here’s another fun live youtube clip: surfy post-Bollywood art-rockers Bombay Rickey doing a live take of their catchy, shapeshifting Bombay 5-0 at their Ditmas Park hideaway earlier this year. The surf kicks in really good at about 1:40.

Amir Nojan’s Persian Classical Concert Transcends the Romantic

Saturday night at Roulette was date night. Classical Persian music is romantic! There were a lot of couples in the crowd for California-based setarist Amir Nojan and the Nava Ensemble’s two sets of poems by Hafez, Rumi and others set to dynamic, often impassioned, artfully improvised themes. Taghi Amjadi sang affectingly and poignantly in an expressive, melismatically nuanced baritone, the brother percussion team of Sina and Samandar Dehghani propelling the songs with a hypnotically boomy groove.

The first part of the show was the soul set; the second half was the dark night of the soul. The concert followed a typical Persian classical trajectory, improvisations giving way to conversations – between voice and instruments, and among the instrumentalists themselves – followed by a long, lively drum break and then a couple of darkly bristling, concluding dance numbers. As the long opening crescendo peaked, Amjadi rose to an imploring intensity against a steadily marching, jangly groove that built agitatedly to match the vocals.

The early part of the concert illustrated an ancient poem by Hafez. Here’s a rough translation: “If the army of sadness invades to destroy the lovers, the bartender and I will take care of the troops with sweet wine.” Even the nation whose language was the lingua franca of the educated classes for centuries throughout the Middle East had to cope with invaders and fascist dictatorships. As with so much of classical Persian poetry, the subtext screams quietly.

When he wasn’t trading bars or verses with the other musicians, Nojan closed his eyes: he’s the rare musician whose command of the fretboard is so complete that he can play anything by touch. His flurrying, chord-chopping crescendos both built an riveting intensity, evoking both surf music and Sonic Youth noiserock, even if the melodies and the method he was using went back six centuries beforehand – that’s how evocative this music is. The second set built to an angst-fueled call-and-response with the vocals over a hypnotic, relentless dirge. The Roulette sound system had smartly been set up to catch all the nuances in the music, because when Nojan went down to the most whispery, delicate phrasing, the awestruck audience was still able to hear every note. A twin frame drum solo gave way to a couple of hauntingly fiery dance numbers at the end to send the crowd out into the street, literally singing along to the bitingly catchy four-chord hook of the night’s final number.

Much as this blog takes a very, very cynical view of promoters trying to piggyback on the artists they book for fortune and fame, the promoters of this show, Robert Browning Associates continue to build on an astonishingly good track record that dates back to the 70s. If first-class esoterica is your thing, these people have something for you. Their next concert is here at Roulette on May 3 at 8 PM with visionary Turkish multi-instrumentalist composer Omar Faruk Tekbilek and his hauntingly danceable ensemble; tix are $25 and worth it.