New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: middle eastern music

A Major Discovery of Rapturous, Previously Unreleased Alan Hovhaness Piano Works

Although Alan Hovhaness earned a place in the pantheon with his mystical, often haunting, Armenian-inspired orchestral works, he was a fine organist and pianist. His piano music is lesser known, and while it often shares those same qualities, it’s often delivishly rhythmic…and challenging to play. One would think that the complete works of the greatest American classical composer would have seen the light of day by now, but as pianist Sahan Arzruni reveals on his new album Alan Hovhaness: Select Piano Compositions – streaming at Spotify – there was more in the archive. And the quality is astonishing, consistent with the rest of the composer’s iconic repertoire.

How was this material discovered? Arzruni worked closely with Hovhaness and has continued to be a leading advocate for his music, and as a result was given unprecedented access. Most of these newly unearthed compositions are on the short side, interspersed among some of Hovhaness’ better-known piano pieces.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was an early champion of Hovhaness, and would play his lively, broodingly Indian-tinged miniature, Mystic Flute, as a concert encore. Here, Arzruni gives it equal parts opulence and fire. He rolls with the wave motion in Laona, a river tableau. In the 68-page album booklet – in Armenian, Turkish and English – Arzruni mentions that Laona, in upstate New York, was a summer home to the 19th century spiritualist movement. It’s hardly a surprise that Hovhaness, who believed himself to be the reincarnation of a medieval Armenian composer, would make a point to spend time in that area.

The six-part suite Yenovk – which the composer dedicated to his colleague, Armenian traditional singer Yenovk Der Hagopian – is an early version of Hovhaness’ Madras Sonata. Arzruni plays with detail and dynamism through the percussive modal minimalism of the Fantasy and Ballata, the gorgeously glittering, carnatic-flavored Jhala, a couple of enigmatic songs without words and the concluding fugue, a playful mashup akin to what Bach would have done if he’d gone to the Paris Expo with Debussy.

Persistently rhythmic, oud-like voicings recur throughout this music, as in Arzruni’s bracingly crescendoing take of Lalezar, a magically ringing, chromatic love theme. The Lake of Van Sonata, an Anatolian waterside portrait, is similarly sparkling but more vast and somber in places. The Suite on Greek Tunes, by contrast, is a much simpler, bouncier, catchy little triptych.

Now for the world premieres! Arzruni reaches for gravitas and majesty along with sharp-fanged pointillisms in Invocation to Vahakn (the Armenian god of war), an otherworldly lyrical 1946 suite of miniatures that’s on the minimal side and way ahead of its time. Percussionist Adam Rosenblatt kicks in a boomy beat in places.

Journey Into Dawn, a 1954 partita, opens with bell-like, Mompou-esque mystery, invokes Bach, romps into India for a bit, then Arzruni shifts to the album’s most fascinatingly allusive harmonies, thisclose to twelve-tone acidity.

Vijag is a capsule Armenian rite of spring – the countermelodies are phantasmagorically exquisite, and Arzruni makes short work of them. The final world premiere recording here is the 1946 Hakhpat Sonata, inspired by an ancient Armenian monastery complex dating to the tenth century. In eight parts, it runs from sober contemplation to precise, dancing figures, concise rainy-day sonics, Indian and Balkan-tinged circularity, Rosenblatt employing his ominous, gong-like thunder sheet and kettledrums. Arzruni has done a great service bringing this magical, undeservedly obscure repertoire to a global audience.

Ensemble Fanaa Bring Their Magical, Mysterious Middle Eastern Grooves to Prospect Park

It was a pleasantly cool Wednesday night in the late summer of 2016. The evening had gotten off to a disappointing start with an album release event in the dingy basement room at the Rockwood, where a talented tunesmith’s pickup band pretty much phoned in what could have been an electrifying set. As it turned out, the electricity that night would happen a little later in another basement room, at Rye Bar on the south side of Williamsburg, where Ensemble Fanaa played two rapt, mysterious, genuinely transcendent sets of Middle Eastern-flavored jazz.

This blog had given a big thumbs-up to their debut performance at Barbes earlier that year. This show was arguably even better. Tenor saxophonist Daro Behroozi spun a web of otherworldly microtones, slithery chromatic melody, hypnotic resonance and the occasional ferocious burst as drummer Dan Kurfirst switched between his kit and a boomy dumbek for intricate polyrhythms as well as slinky snakecharmer grooves. Bassist John Murchison held the center, often playing subtle, sometimes haunting variations on a pedal line. If memory serves right – this was a long time ago – he switched to the magical, incisive Moroccan sintir bass lute for a handful of trance-inducing, gnawa-inspired numbers.

Game plan at the time was to write up this show to plug whatever the trio’s next gig was. But they were all busy in other bands at the time, and if they actually played somewhere else within the next couple of months, it was so far under the radar that this blog missed it. The good news is that Ensemble Fanaa are doing an outdoor gig on April 20 at 5:30 PM in Prospect Park, close to the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave. Considering that this band’s music is on the serious side: haunting, and rapturous, and mystical, nobody in the group seems like a weedhead. But if that’s your thing, there is no other 4/20 show that can match this one for psychedelic ambience. And it that’s not your thing, this still promises to be the best concert of the month.

A Mesmerizing, Paradigm-Shifting, Intimate New Album From Hafez Modirzadeh

Hafez Modirzadeh’s 2012 album Post-Chromodal Out! isn’t just one of the greatest jazz albums ever made: it’s one of the most paradigm-shifting albums ever made in any style of music. After decades of blending classical Persian modes with jazz, the tenor saxophonist employed several microtonal piano tunings for a session packed with riveting, otherworldly sounds. It’s probably the best album Vijay Iyer ever played on. It’s the dream record Erik Satie never wrote, that Thelonious Monk and Abdolhasan Saba never got to make. It also sounds like absolutely nothing else ever recorded…except for this.

With his latest release, Facets – streaming at Bandcamp – Modirzadeh switches out the pyrotechnics for a mesmerizing, intimate series of duets and solo pieces. He chose three completely different pianists as partners: Craig Taborn, Kris Davis and Tyshawn Sorey. The first comes out of the Knitting Factory school of the late 80s, the second is known for her lyricism but also has recently branched out into both more electronic and avant garde sounds. In the jazz world, Sorey has built a strong career as a drummer, but in the last few years he’s turned to solid, purposeful new classical composition.

Here, Modirzadeh employs a piano tuning where eight of the keys in the scale are retuned microtonally. Most of these pieces are on the short side; several of them are miniatures. While he gave each pianist a score prior prior to the recording sessions, none of them had played the music in this tuning before. The overtones are to die for: there’s as much sound in between the notes as there is when the hammers hit the strings. Davis is the most expansive pianist here, relishing the opportunity to discover new harmonic universes. True to form, Sorey is all about atmosphere and focus. Taborn, who opens and closes the album solo, is clearly learning on the job and takes his time, ceding centerstage to the ringleader here for some of his most invocative passages.

The first pianist Modirzadeh engages with is Sorey, for a blend of gentle, soulful, rhythmic sax over a solemn, lingering minimalism with just a few hints of microtonality. It fits his style perfectly.

The first duet with Davis, on the same composition, comes across as a more picturesque dawn tableau, Modirzadeh wafting and in one place sounding what could be a muezzin’s call as the pianist calmly but playfully works rising righthand against a still, low resonant figure. Their miniature after that is more concise and over too soon, although that could be said for everything on the album: who would ever want such rapturous music to end? Time stands still when you hear this.

Her methodical gestures, thoughtful syncopation and symphonically vast dynamic shifts on the album’s ninth track, a solo piece, are as otherworldly as they are fun: good luck trying not to crack a smile when she hits that ridiculous dance theme. And she finds regal solemnity but also moments of puckish mirth in a solo piece later on.

She also gets to take Monk through a funhouse mirror, with a coy restraint, in Modirzadeh’s minimalist microtonal mashup of Pannonica and Ask Me Now. The saxophonist does each as a duet with Taborn, the former a cautious hint of a stroll, the latter with spare yet inviting and increasingly surreal wee-hours ambience

With Sorey, Modirzadeh develops a warm, increasingly hypnotic nocturne; playfully expands and contracts around a clustering, jumping riff; and ushers in the album’s most mystical nocturne. The contrast between low crush and high belltones in Sorey’s first solo improvisation is spine-tingling. Later, he parses a Satie-esque fugue.

To compare this album to anything else released this year is unfair: jazz is more microtonal than most people realize, but Modirzadeh is still galaxies ahead of anybody else. That being said, it would take Ellington and Mohammed Abdel Wahab coming back from the dead to knock this one off the top of the best jazz albums of 2021 list.

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn For April and May 2021

Audiences from Florida to the Dakotas are back to normal while we’re still stuck in lockdown hell. But there’s a growing number of shows here this month, almost all of them outdoors and free. Sorry, no speakeasy shows listed here: we can’t snitch on them!

New listings are being added, sporadically: it couldn’t hurt to bookmark this page and check back in about a week to see what else is on the schedule!

4/4. 11 AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by the Wayne Escoffery/Jeremy Pelt Quartet with Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, wow, at the south end of the mall in Central Park, enter at 72nd St and go south when you see the Naumburg Bandshell

4/6, 5 PM the Regeneration Quintet – Ras Moshe (saxophones), Matt Lavelle (trumpet),Ayumi Ishito (saxophone), Evan Crane (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) improvise in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/10, 3 PM organist Gail Archer plays a rare program of Russian organ music at St. John Nepomucene church, 411 E 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

4/10, noon AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by bassist William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore (on keys?) and Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/11, POSTPONED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading her Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/14, 5:30 PM serious improvisation: Becoming and Return – Daniel Carter (woodwinds/trumpet), Roshni Samlal (tabla), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/15, 7 PM poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7, sug don $10

4/17, 1:30ish saxophonist Chris Potter leads a trio with Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/17, 1:30 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

4/20, 5:30 PM best show of the month: haunting Middle Eastern jazz with Ensemble Fanaa – Daro Behroozi (saxophone/bBass clarinet), John Murchison (double bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums/percussion) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/23, 7 PM noirish, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his pastoral noir Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

4/24, 1 PM ish trumpeter Marquis Hill‘s Quartet in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 1 PM ish saxophonist Michael Thomas leads his Quartet with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Edward Perez on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/27, 5:30 PM stoner downtempo grooves with Lateef Beats – Fima Chupakhin (keys), John Merrit (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

5/1, noon saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Chad Taylor on drums followed at 1 ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s Quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/2, 1 PM ish intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads a trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/3-4, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra String Quartet play works from south of the border by Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez at Bryant Park

5/5, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra Percussion ensemble play an all Javier Diaz program in the park at Herald Square. The program repeats on 5/12

5/8, 1 PM ish cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass – hey, they’re all string players! – in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/10-11, 5:30 PM jazz pianist Lee Musiker leads a quintet at Bryant Park

5/15, 1 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/22, 1 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/29, 1 PM ish alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/31, 1 PM ish trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

add 6/ 6-8, 1 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

Another Gorgeous, Mesmerizing Middle Eastern Rock Record From King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might be the most prolific psychedelic band in the world. Over the past several years they’ve released more albums than just about anyone other than Satoko Fujii or the Pocket Gods. Their epic double live album Chunky Shrapnel ranked high on the Best Albums of 2020 page here; their latest, simply titled L.W. is streaming at Bandcamp and might be even better.

From the first few crashing notes of the opening number, If Not Now, Then When? it’s clear that this is going to be one of their gorgeously uneasy Turkish-influenced records, a theme and variations: a Turkish rock symphony of sorts. Frontman Stu Mackenzie’s guitar and Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s blippy keys mingle in a microtonal Near Eastern mode over the disco-ish strut of bassist Lucas Harwood and drummer Michael Cavanagh.

With its oudlike melismas, track two, O.N.E. is where all the guitarists, including Cook Craig and Joey Walker join the slinky snakecharmer mix. With all the guitars hitting the baglama-like chromatic riffs of Pleura, the intensity grows while the rhythms get trickier.

Supreme Ascendancy has spikier, harplike textures, swirly organ and even an even more bracing microtonal edge. Incisive acoustic riffs, echoey electric washes and a little acidic Turkish zurna oboe permeate the mellotron drift of Static Electricity, arguably the album’s best and doomiest track. East West Link makes a good segue: it’s sort of the radio edit, with a buzzing, burning guitar/zurna duel over Cavanagh’s clip-clop beat.

They bring more of a fuzztone garage rock attack to the hypnotic Ataraxia. Rippling, kanun-like keys take centerstage in See Me, Harwood’s tense hammer-ons fueling the big crescendo. The band close with a track they call K.G.L.W., a serious epic where they bring everything full circle in their heaviest attack. These lizard kings have made more good albums over the years than just about anybody and this is one of their very best.

Poignant, Gorgeous, Paradigm-Shifting Iranian and Ethiopian Flavored Mashups From SoSaLa

It’s been a long time between albums as a bandleader for Iranian-American saxophonist Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi, who records under the name SoSaLa. His 2008 album Nu World Trash was a wildly eclectic mix of Middle Eastern, dub, Ethiopiques and jazz, among other styles. The album’s underlying concept was to encourage people to get back to reality and leave the virtual one behind. There’s never been a more important time for that message, and auspiciously SoSaLa has a follow-up, wryly titled Nu World Trashed – which  hasn’t hit the web yet, although there are a few tracks up at Soundcloud – to remind us how little the paradigm has changed since then. But, damn, the world is on the brink of a seismic shift, and this guy is ready!. If jazz, psychedelia, Middle Eastern or Ethiopian music are your jams. crank this often starkly beautiful album. Fans of great Levantine reedmen from Daro Behroozi to Hafez Modirzadeh are especially encouraged to check it out.

The opening number, Welcome Nu World has brooding, gorgeously allusive tenor sax over spare, echoey electric piano from Paul Amrod and a dissociative electronic backdrop with agitated crowd noise.  The second track, Enough Is Enough is a hip-hop broadside against “vampire capitalists” and the anti-artistic contingent who are so well represented among the lockdowners. Cornel West makes a characteristically fiery cameo; the bandleader plays a poignantly melismatic, Ethopian-tinged solo.

Mystical Full Moon Hymn for Ornette Coleman is an attractively modal Ethiopian reggae shout-out to Ladjevardi’s onetime teacher and mentor. David Belmont does a spot-on recreation of a sarod, Ladjevardi loops a balmy but bracing Ethiopiques riff and kamancheh player Kaveh Haghtalab jabs and plucks in a live remake of an acid jazz number from the previous album, Sad, Sad, Sad Sake.

There are two versions of Anybody Out There?, the first a haunting trip-hop number with stately, flurrying Ethiopian-tinged sax and delicate acoustic guitar attcents from Bob Romanowski over an echoey, loopy backdrop of Rhodes electric piano and twinkling atmospherics. The second is a bitingly swirly dub miniature.

What’s What? is the album’s most hypnotic number, Ladjevardi’s elegantly incisive modal phrasing over similarly stark kamancheh from Haghtalab and a dubby background. “Fucking internet, taking our private time away,” Ladjevardi grouses.. The album’s most epic track is  My Shushtari, a shout-out to the late Iranian musical icon Mohamad Reza Shajarian, with Ladjevardi on imploring, plaintive soprano sax and David Shively rippling sepulchrally and intensely across the sonic spectrum on cimbalom. It will give you chills. The duo revisit the theme more broodingly further down the scale to close the album with the ironically titled Intro Music.

A Rare Mix of Ancient Andalucian Otherworldliness Now Available Digitally

Back in 1976, the Spanish ensemble Atrium Musicae Madrid gathered in an old church in their hometown and recorded a suite of nouba themes from Andalucia which date back as far as 1200 years. The result was a dynamic, sometimes otherworldly, sometimes wamly lilting mix of melodies that sound more Mediterranean or Iranian than they do Arabic. The original 1977 vinyl record, Al Andalus, has been newly digitized and is streaming at Spotify.

Although Andalucia in antiquity was not a democracy and far from a perfect society, it was one of the great melting pots in world history where Christians, Jews and, eventually, Muslims mingled and the arts flourished. Tragically, this goldern age of music was eventually crushed by invading Christian extremists. For that reason, much of the Andalucian nouba repertoire – a western counterpart to the Indian raga system, corresponding with specific times of day – has been destroyed. How fortunate we are have this record to remind us of what the world lost – and what our world stands to lose if the lockdowners and their needle of death are allowed to operate at warp speed with their holocaust.

Every member of the septet switches between many different instruments, in keeping with tradition. Bandleader Gregorio Paniagua plays mostly the stark kamancheh fiddle, oud and rabab lute. Ney flutist Eduardo Paniagua, often the lead instrumentalist here, plays some of the most liquid lines any high reedman ever immortalized on vinyl. Instruments as ancient as the mizmar oboe and al-urgana (an ancient keyboard instrument similar to the harmonium) get extended solos. This isn’t wild party music; introductory taqsims and solos are on the short and very concise side. Reedy, spiky, rippling textures take brief turns in the spotlight over a beat that can be slinky and boomy on one number and skeletal on the next. Listen closely and you will hear tantalizing hints of what would be happening centuries later, further into the Mediterranean and eastward from there.

The fleeting track nine, San’a Al Isbihan is the most intoxicatingly chromatic of the bunch.The most anthemic and stately theme, driven by the oud, appears right afterward. And the Arabic roots of flamenco reveal themselves in the opening riffs of the twelfth song.

Brilliant, Haunting New Works From Iranian Composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi

Teheran-based composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi have released an aptly titled, haunting new album Maelstrom, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a diverse but persistently dark collection of works for both solo instruments and small ensembles. The two draw on influences as vast as European minimalism and horizontal music as well as traditional Iranian sounds. In a year of one horror after another – especially in Iran, which was one of the first countries crippled by prppaganda and hysteria – this is indelibly an album for our time. Yet the music here also offers considerable hope and even devious humor.

The first work is Trauma, a Shirangi trio composition played by cellists Ella Bokor and Mircea Marian with accordionist Fernando Mihalache. The strings enter with a syncopated, mutedly shamanic drive that quickly rises to an insistent pedalpoint. The accordion first serves as a wary chordal anchor while the cellos diverge and then return with an increasingly stricken intensity, then wind out with plaintive washes.

Violinist Mykola Havyuk, clarinetist Yaroslav Zhovnirych and pianist Nataliya Martynova play Abbasi’s The Rebellion, beginning more hauntingly microtonal, its austere resonance punctuated by simple, forlorn piano incisions. Eerie, circling chromatics from the piano underscore troubled, anthemic phrases. A couple of vigorous flicks under the lid signals a wounded call-and-response: slowly but resolutely, a revolution flickers and eventually leaps from the desolation. The obvious comparison is the livelier moments in Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time.

By contrast, To Lose Hope – another Abbasi piece, featuring clarinetist Mykola Havyuk and a string quartet comprising violinists Marko Komonko and Petro Titiaiev, violist Ustym Zhuk and cellist Denys Lytvynenke – first takes shape as a hazy cavatina, Havyuk’s crystalline leads balanced by brooding cello and shivery vibrato from the rest of the strings. It’s the most distinctly Iranian piece here. The jauntiness, acerbity and suspense that follow are unexpectedly welcome. The point seems to be that hope is where you find it.

Afrooch, an Abbasi solo work played by violinist Farmehr Beyglou, requires daunting extended technique, shifting back and forth between ghostly harmonics, moody atmosphere, insistently hammering riffs, shivery crescendos and a call-and-response that grows from enigmatic to puckish. The ending is too funny to give away.

The closing composition, Shirangi’s The Common Motivations is a solo piano piece, Sahel Ebae’s low murk contrasting with muted inside-the-gestures, expanding with spacious minimalist accents and eventually forlorn, Messiaenic belltone chords. If this is characteristic of the new music coming out of Iran these days, the world needs to hear more of it.

The Silkroad Ensemble Release a Haunting, Surreal New Osvaldo Golijov Epic

Over the past practically three decades, the Silkroad Ensemble have been the world’s great champions of a blend of music from south Asia, through the Arabic-speaking world and the west. Their latest album, Falling Out of Time – which hasn’t hit the web yet – comprises a single, lavish, thirteen-part tone poem by contemporary classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, which hauntingly dovetails with the group’s esthetic. It may be the most stunningly accessible orchestral work the composer has ever written. It’s certainly the most eclectic, drawing on such diverse idioms as Indian music, classical Chinese theatre, jazz balladry and sounds of the Middle East.

This is a frequently operatically-tinged work, tracing a surreal, grim narrative surrounding the death of a child. Mythical creatures and archetypes are involved. The introduction, Heart Murmur rises from a brooding, skeletal Arabic-tinged taqsim to a darkly catchy, circling ghazal-like melody over a dancing, jazz-inflected pulse and the achingly intertwining voices of singers Biella da Costa and Nora Fischer.

Night Messengers is a stark, increasingly imploring nocturnal tableau, the womens’ voices wary and enigmatic over an all-star string quartet comprising half of Brooklyn Rider – violinist Johnny Gandelsman and violist Nicholas Cords – with violinist Mazz Swift, and cellist Karen Ouzounian.

That sudden, stratospherically high harmony in the enigmatic Come Chaos is a real shock to the system: is that a voice, Wu Tong’s sheng, or a theremin? No spoilers!

Uneasy, fragmentary flickers from the strings followed by Wu Man’s pipa join to introduce the simply titled Step, rising to a harrowing intensity. The Lynchian dub interlude afterward comes as another real shock.

Shane Shanahan’s tabla and the singers’ acidic harmonies take over the hypnotic ambience as In Procession, a portrait of mass bereavement, gets underway, Kayhan Kalhor’s muted, desolate kamancheh solo at the center amid the string quartet. Troubled atmospherics waft and eventually permeate Walking, the suite’s drifting, central elegy, lowlit with echoey kamancheh, Dan Brantigan’s desolate trumpet and Shawn Conley’s spare jazz-inflected bass

An ambient lament featuring spiky pipa in contrast to Jeremy Flower’s synth foreshadows Fly, which with its aching ambience and jazz allusions mirrors the centerpiece. Go Now, the suite’s most immersive, restlessly resonant track, features a long, plaintive kamancheh intro, a similarly aching, vivid duet with the violin. Da Costa reaches for the rafters with the pipa trailing off morosely at the end.

Akeya (Where Are You) is a dissociative mashup of orchestral 1950s Miles Davis, Etta James moan and kabuki theatre, maybe. The ensemble hint at rebirth and redemption in the closing tableau, Breathe. Is the nameless dead boy at the center of the story a metaphor for the hope and joy that was stolen from us in 2020? What a piece of music for our time!

Darkly Glistening, Blissfully Tuneful Improvisation From Pianist Cat Toren’s Human Kind

Pianist Cat Toren’s new album Scintillating Beauty – streaming at Bandcamp – references a Martin Luther King quote about what the world would be like if we were able to conquer racism and achieve true equality. But the title is just as apt a description of the music. Toren has always been one of the most reliably melodic improvisers in the New York creative music scene, and her group Human Kind achieve a similarly high standard of tunefulness here. Jazz these days seldom sounds so effortlessly symphonic.

The epic opening cut is Radiance in Veils, sax player Xavier del Castillo introducing a balmy, Indian-tinged nocturnal theme immediately echoed by oudist Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor as Toren glistens and ripples spaciously in the upper registers behind them. The bandleader glides into Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics and then pounces hard as the bass and drums develop an elegant syncopation, del Castillo and Fruchter weaving a similar gravitas. Shuddering sax and torrential piano fuel a couple of big crescendos, Toren and Leckie team up for a tersely dancing passage and Fruchter pulls uneasily away from a broodingly emphatic center. The great Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani comes to mind.

The lush, rapturous Middle Eastern ambience continues in Garment of Destiny, from the flourishes of Toren’s solo intro, through Fruchter’s hypnotic oud solo over reflecting-pool piano chords. Del Castillo adds nocturnal ambience and then agitation matching the murk rising behind him.

Ignus Fatuus is a moody midtempo swing number, Toren doing a more allusively chromatic take on Errol Garner, del Castillo taking his most jaggedly intense, spine-tingling solo here. Toren switches to funeral-parlor organ to open the closing diptych, Rising Phoenix, Fruchter leading the band into a reflective calm spiced with Toren’s many bells and rattles. Her switch to the piano signals an increasingly bustling return from dreamland, del Castillo a confidently bluesy light in the darkness. The second part has a bittersweet, rather stern soul-infused sway, Honor and the rest of the band finally seizing the chance to cut loose. In Toren’s view, we all make it to the mountaintop. This is one of the best and most memorable jazz albums of the year.