Iranian Heart, Iranian Soul
Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) player, is as consummate a musician and artist as one could dream of. He combines astonishing virtuosity and passionate immersion in his music, with playing which is charismatic, stellar – and, yet, curiously without ‘look at me ego’ or hogging centre stage, muscling out his ‘supporting musicians’ Kalhor doesn’t really do ‘supporting musicians’. He works peer to peer with other musicians
What he does do is to work with a range of other musicians, sometimes from his own culture’s musical traditions, sometimes cross culturally, as in his work with Ghazal, marrying the Iranian kamancheh with instruments from India’s classical musical tradition – sitar, tabla, vocals. And sometimes he works with musicians better known in the European classical music traditions, most notably with Yo Yo Ma, playing a wealth of Asian music in the Silk Road series of albums.
Whatever Kalhor does, he brings devotion to his work. Whatever brilliance, finesse and mastery he brings to his playing everything is designed to shine the brilliance of the music itself. There is surrender to the music, surrender to the joint practice of playing music with others, and, if you are fortunate enough to experience a live concert with Kalhor, as I recently was, surrender to the experience of unfolding and revealing music in a shared experience for the active listener to enter into this space.
This particular CD, with music which arose out of Kalhor’s own experience of his country’s recent political dark places, is a meditation on music as expression of suffering, as well as music as a shared, collective experience to provide some ease from that dark night of isolation, and existential aloneness
Here, in accompaniment with Ali Bahrami Fard, we have two musicians playing adapted versions of traditional Iranian instruments. Fard is playing the santour, a shimmering, percussive dulcimer instrument – but it is a bass santour, much larger, with a wider musical range, 96 strings, 24 bridges instead of the traditional 72 and 18
Meanwhile Kalhor is playing a new instrument, developed especially for him by the instrument maker Peter Biffen, the shah Kaman, with different stringing, and using a lighter sounding board made of wood rather than skin, with, again, the possibility of richer lower notes.
At the live concert, which this CD is a version of, the two musicians were electrifying, playing for well over an hour, a continuous piece of music (here, on the CD briefly broken into movements with track names, rather than stand alone tracks).
The music ranges from dark anguish, quiet reflection, a maelstrom of passion and energy, anger, despair, resilience, shared commitment. At times so frenetic and wild is the music that it seems impossible to sit with it, the wild expression of dance is an insistent call. Restrained by the initial hearing of the music in a concert hall, I found a subtler response, listening to the dynamic movement of the music from within physical stillness, letting the music shape itself and move within, rather than cause external movement. It deepened my appreciation of this wonderful music, and the absolute focus brought by the inspired musicians