Review: Kayhan Kalhor/Erdal Erzincan-The Wind

Kayhan Kalhor
between sound and space an ECM Records resource

The Wind is a significant way station in the travels of kamancheh (Iranian spike fiddle) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and baglama (an oud-like Turkish instrument, also known as the saz) master Erdal Erzincan, who under its name are captured on record together for the first time. Ghosting them is Ulas Özdemir, the musicologist who aided Kalhor in his search for musical material during research trips to Istanbul, and who plays the divan baglama (bass saz) almost like a tambura, stretching a droning sky across which the duo may fly.

Improvisation is of primary importance in Kalhor and Erzincan’s world of sound—so much so that the performance documented here feels like one long freeform variation, divided though it is into 12 parts.The baglama has a haunting insistence about it, which tills soil until Kalhor’s bow comes sprouting through. The latter seems at first like a trick of the ear, for its verbs conjugate by way of a most understated grammar. As it becomes more faithfully inscribed, gathering minnows and courage from every limpid pool, Kalhor’s spirit billows like parachute silk between elements, of which the album’s titular wind is but one of many. Every gust of air keeps him afloat, but also reminds us of the importance of rootedness. And all of this in the album’s first six minutes.

Part II moves in swaying patterns and, like much of what follows, practices the wisdom of restraint even at its most eruptive moments. From here, the album turns fragmentary, dialogic corners, ping-ponging motifs across a divine net according to subtler rules of play. Strum-heavy passages (Part IV) are balanced by holy unions (Part V), marking slow escalation into clouds near to bursting with melody. As territories expand, so too does the capacity for these musicians to breathe. An open circuit in search of a conductor, they unleash electrical charge from the friction of their dance. Erzincan’s fingerwork in Part X inspires Kalhor to just such a lightning bolt of expression, the overtones of which are almost deafening in their affect. Kalhor’s pizzicato action in Part XI spins a different cyclone before the bittersweetness of farewell sets us on our way.

Kalhor and Erzincan inhabit everything they play as bees inhabit a hive, wagging to invisible rhythms and joining the almighty hum that activates every soul to buzz its wings. What we have, then, is the honey.