CD Review: Silent City

09.23.08
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider
eMusic

You can justifiably call this cross-cultural effort a spinoff of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. The string quartet with the quixotic name Brooklyn Rider consists of musicians who first met each other, and Persian fiddler Kayhan Kalhor, while working in Ma's globetrotting world/chamber music ensemble. Kalhor is a master of the kamancheh, the spike fiddle of Persian classical music, and has become a primary composer for the Silk Road albums. On "Silent City" he and his Brooklyn-based colleagues draw freely on their shared loves of traditional Central Asian music and improvisation - which sounds like a recipe for a mushy, politically correct album of Classical Lite. Instead, the album sounds like the next step in an evolution that comes from the tradition of Béla Bartók, who tramped around the Hungarian and Romanian countryside in the early 20th century, recording folk songs and dances and incorporating them into his own string pieces.

In addition to the bowed Western and Persian strings, "Silent City" also features bass and percussion, and the combination is used to good effect on the opening cut, "Ascending Bird," an exotic yet accessible work that wouldn't disappoint fans of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Each of the four tracks offers something slightly different, from the haunted introspection of the title track, to the plucked sounds of the Iranian setar (a lute that is the ancestor of India's sitar) on "Parvaz," to the gradually building, almost trance-like ecstasy of the epic "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged." It's not Persian classical music, and you could reasonably ask if it's Western classical music either - but part of Brooklyn Rider's mission seems to be to suggest that we redefine what "Western classical music" means in the 21st century.