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Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40527 )

The Kronos Quartet has been one of the most celebrated and influential group of musicians for the last 35 years. After realising that most of the music they'd ever played had originated in Vienna, the US based Kronos Quartet leader David Harrington, decided to expand the group's horizons and so he immersed himself in diverse musical genres from the four corners of the earth. His relentless curiosity resulted in the quartet recording works by Bartok, Gorecki, John Adams, Mingus, Monk and Jimi Hendrix as well as collaborating and performing with Terry Riley, Wu Mann, Asha Bhosle, Taraf De Haidouks, Zakir Hussain, Tom Waits, Nelly Furtado and Rokia Traore.

For this set, Harrington's explorations led him to the music of the Azerbaijani singers Alim and Fargana Qasimov. This resulted in Alim bringing two of his ensemble to San Francisco in 2008 where they rehearsed with The Kronos Quartet for a week while filming the DVD. The music showcases Alim balancing his virile, free flowing vocal style with that of his ensemble players who are masters of improvisation supported by the Kronos Quartet who eagerly and enthusiastically transform fixed arrangements and respond spontaneously. Of course, Elim found singing with classically trained musicians a challenge but he didn't let that stop him from creating an unpredictable, almost ecstatic, atmosphere that fans of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan will be familiar with.

My advice is; watch the DVD first and then, after you've seen how the musicians develop the themes, listen to the CD and marvel at the spark and energy they create - especially on epic songs like the ghazal Getme Getme (Don't Go Away) where Alim and Fargana perform with a fiery majesty akin to Om Khalsoum.

Although only one and a half minutes long, Leyla is an explosive display of acrobatic vocals and feisty interplay between both ensembles while Kohlen Atim (My Spirited Horse) is a journey through the mountains on horseback with the singers and musicians starting out at a steady plod but eventually bursting into an all-out gallop to the finale with the strings and kamancha joining Alim's voice in a high speed interpretation of horses thundering home.

The track Rangin Kaman is a 29 minute tour de force by Homayun Sakhi composed on the rubab (double chambered lute with 3 main strings and 15 sympathetic strings). He originally demonstrated the sounds he thought the quartet should make on his Casio synthesizer! A wonderful challenge for Harrington's quartet, it has an intricate setting of strong beats, traditional Afghan meters and dynamics perfectly made for the rubab. Sakhi sets out the theme in long passages of his own playing and then brings in the tabla and frame drum to accentuate the harmonic passages provided by the Kronos Quartet who help to power the whole thing along with unpredictable rhythmic shifts. As the track develops, you get waves of blissful moments washing in with astounding shifts in direction - take note at around the twenty minute mark!

I love this music. The CD already gone onto the rack that holds my special favourites that I know I'll want to listen to years to come.

Ask for SFWCD40527

Only £21.50 & p&p for this CD/DVD set at Red Lick


Review Date: May 2010

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