New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: persian music

Mitra Sumara Bring Their Mysterious, Psychedelic Iranian Dancefloor Grooves to Alphabet City

Mitra Sumara are New York’s only Farsi funk band. They play slinky dancefloor grooves in tricky meters, spiced with stabbing horns, purposeful psychedelic keyboards and guitar. The now-obscure classics in their repertoire were all the rage in Iran until the 1979 coup d’etat and subsequent crackdown on human rights. Much like Turkish music, the songs’ melodies shift uneasily between western minor scales and the magical microtonal maqams of Arabic music. Mitra Sumara add both a dubwise edge as well as salsa percussion. The result is as psychedelic as it is fun to jam out to on the dance floor. Their long-awaited debut album is due to hit their music page shortly; they’re playing the album release show on June 7 at 8 PM at Nublu 151. Cover is $15.

As the opening track, legendary Iranian singer Googoosh’s Bemoon ta Bemoonam gets underway, strutting horns give way to a spiraling, marionettish melody, Jim Duffy’s uneasily bubbling electric piano overhead; then frontwoman Yvette Saatchi Perez comes in and the horns return. There are echoes of both Afrobeat and Afro-Cuban music, the latter reinforced by a propulsive Peter Zummo trombone solo.

Zia Atabi’s Helelyos has spare, persistent timbales, dubby minor-key horns and a hypnotic Julian Maile wah guitar loop; later, he adds some arresting jet engine flourishes. Nikhil Yerawadekar’s bass growls and snaps along underneath Duffy’s carnivalesque, tremoloing organ as Perez’s vocals mine the microtones in Shahre Paiz, by Pooran – it’s arguably the album’s best and most Arabic-inflected track.

The longing in Perez’s voice in chanteuse Soli’s broodingly pouncing, similarly catchy, minor-key Miravi is visceral. Bill Ruyle’s santoor adds ripples alongside Duffy’s piano as the horns swirl and rage in Parva’s chromatically juicy instrumental Mosem-e Gol. Gol Bi Goldoon, another Googoosh hit, swings along on a tight clave beat, spare unadorned guitar balanced by Duffy’s roto organ, the guys in the band joining Perez on the big anthemic chorus.

Duffy’s moody, chromatic electric piano flourishes light up a third Googoosh track, Donya Vafa Nadare, vamping along over a lithe 17/8 rhythm. Manoto has a 70s lowrider latin groove, wry singalong riffage and allusions to both latin pop and bossa nova. Melismatic snakecharmer keys and guitar interchange and then edge toward Nancy Sinatra-ish Vegas noir in Hamparvaz, originally recorded by Leila Forouhar.

The album’s final cut is Kofriam, a mighty anthem by Zia that reminds of the Hawaii 5-0 theme and classic early 70s Fela, with a circling duskcore groove straight out of the Sahara. Who knows how far this music might have gone if the Khomeini regime hadn’t crushed it? Big props to Mitra Sumara for rescuing it from obscurity for the rest of the world.

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A Spellbinding Downtown Show By Two of the Greatest Players in Middle Eastern Music

Time stood still last night in the financial district at the duo performance by Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor and Turkish baglama lute player Erdal Erzincan. They opened with a whisper, Kalhor bowing a barely audible mist until Erzincan responded with a single spare, plaintive, minor-key phrase. After the better part of two hours onstage, they ended cold with a single bracing cadenza. In between, they channeled mystery, and occasional horror, a little irresistible humor and some snark – and pretty much every other emotion in between.

Kalhor is often acknowledged as this era’s greatest Iranian musician, and might also be the most riveting composer of the late 20th and early 21st century as well. He is equally skilled as an improviser, as is Erzincan. In the crowd last night, one of the great impresarios of Turkish music called hin the world’s most innovative baglama player.

Slowly and methodically, Erzincan drew Kalhor from his deep-sky whispers into a brooding exchange of simple, warily allusive phrases. Soon after, Kalhor set the stage for the rest of the evening with a plaintive descending riff in the whole-tone scale. From there the show was a roller-coaster ride of several variations on that theme – four in particular stood out, although variations in Middle Eastern music can be pretty much infinite.

As was the epic scope of the concert. It was impossible not to get completely lost in the music. On one hand, much of it was Middle Eastern Twin Peaks themes, developing increasingly ominous melodies based loosely on the two musicians’ landmark 2006 album, The Wind. This was less a full-force gale – or uneasy breeze – than a series of storms punctuated by portents of more to come.

It’s impossible to remember Kalhor playing with more sheer ferocity than he did last night. His percussive attack seemed to be a new development: often he’d pluck out a galloping beat on his fingerboard, using his little finger on the bulb at the base of his fiddle for a striking, boomy impact, enhanced by the immense amount of reverb that both instruments benefited immensely from. His seemingly endless waves of practically supersonic sixteenth notes as the music reached full altitude toward the end of the show were literally breathtaking,  in terms of both raw speed and clenched-teeth emotional wallop. And he didn’t even introduce his signature echo effects – where he bows the same note and then gradually backs off – until at least the halfway point.

Erzincan’s technique and melody were just as riveting. His rippling, pointillistic volleys of chromatics underneath Kalhor’s aching, astringent washes seemed absolutely effortless. Likewise, there were several interludes where Erzincan put two hands on the fretboard and fired off long spirals of tapping that put just about any heavy metal guitarist to shame. For whatever reason, after Kalhor had introduced that first troubled central riff, it  was Erzincan who ushered in each of the others.

Perhaps because music from Iran and Turkey blends the microtones of classical Arabic maqam music with western tonalities, there were points where razors-edge Middle Eastern chromatics were front and center, and others – particularly during the lulls – where the ambience was closer to western classical, or even horror film music. There were also a couple of points where Kalhor threw a couple of absolutely buffoonish swipes at Erzincan, who passed them right back without missing a beat – was this to gauge how much people were paying attention? For what it’s worth, nobody laughed out loud,

The long upward sprint at about the ninety minute mark turned out to be just clever foreshadowing; the two suddenly backed away for a return to the introductory whispers before raising the energy toward redline again. And then suddenly the show was over. At that point, it was impossible to recall anything more than this, considering how much of a dream state the crowd had been drawn into. A cellist in the audience, sister to one of the great innovators in Punjabi and blues music, mused about what a privilege it had been to witness this. Her friend, one of New York’s foremost concert presenters, revealed that she’d spent the whole show with her eyes closed, letting the duo deliver a surrealist film for the ears.

This was the final concert of the year at Pace University’s Schimmel Center, but is typical of the programming here. A big shout to Isabel Sofer of Live Sounds, who booked this concert and has been one of the world’s foremost advocates for Kalhor and many similar artists from around the world since the 1990s.

Two of the World’s Greatest Middle Eastern Musicians Revisit a Legendary Collaboration at Pace University This Saturday Night

Kayhan Kalhor is arguably the world’s greatest player of the kamancheh, the rustically overtone-drenched Iranian standup fiddle. He also might be the world’s foremost composer. His music is harrowing, windswept, mystical and majestic, often all of those qualities at once. Considering his Kurdish heritage, it’s no surprise that a powerful political streak runs through his work, most notably on his shattering 2008 Silent City suite, whose epic centerpiece commemorates Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Hallabjah,

Unsurprisingly, Kalhor – a founding member of the Silk Road Ensemble – is constantly sought after as a collaborator. Back in the mid-zeros, he made a characteristically magical, serpentine album, The Wind, with Turkish baglama lute player Erdal Erzincan (streaming at Spotify). In a serendipitous stroke of fate, the two are touring this month, with a stop this Saturday night, May 19 at 7 PM at the Schimmel auditorium at Pace University at 3 Spruce St. in the financial district. Tix are $30 and still available as of today; the closest train is the 6 or the J to Brooklyn Bridge.

Obviously, with two of the world’s great improvisers onstage, there’s no telling where they’ll go, or to what degree they’ll replicate any of their previous performances together. Interestingly, back in the winter of 2013 at the Asia Society, Kalhor and santoorist Ali Bahrami Fard closely followed the trajectory if not the exact changes of their unforgettable duo album, I Will Not Stand Alone.

 At times, this album seems like an endless taqsim, a Sisyphean Middle Eastern journey up the mountainside which rather than tumbling down will slide back gracefully from an electrifying thicket of notes into into spare, plaintive resonance. In the same vein as American jazz, music from this part of the world, this included, relies on the western scale but with all sorts of blue notes, in lieu of the microtonal scales of, say, the Egyptian maqam tradition.

Erzincan flutters elegantly through a pensive minor mode to open the collaboration. Kalhor joins in with eerily microtonal melismas, then sets his sights on the clouds – or other galaxies, as he stabs further and further into the great beyond. Erzincan subtly moves toward the forefront with variations on a catchy riff with a surreal resemblance to an Appalachian theme.

Throughout the album, spare plucking interchanges with long, desolate kamancheh phrases and angst-fueled, quavery interludes. Interestingly, it’s not Erzincan but Kalhor who first introduces two plaintive classical Turkish themes, although Erzincan welcomes them with a spiky abandon. Angst rises as the two grow more insistent and then hypnotic together. A lively pizzicato duel grows into a bouncy, uneasy circle dance, then the two return more slashingly to starkly driving chromatics. There is no western jamband who can match their intensity. Find out for yourself Saturday night. 

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.