Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider; Silent City

Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider

Iranian-born Kayhan Kalhor, master of the kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle), teams up on Silent City with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider (Colin Jacobson, Jonathan Gandelsman, Nicholas Cords, Eric Jacobsen), accompanied by Jeff Beecher (bass) and Mark Suter (percussion), for a group of compositions which offer interpretations of stories drawn from popular Persian myth. This effort grew from relationships forged at a gathering of musicians convened several years ago by Yo Yo Ma for the Silk Road Project at the Tanglewood Music Center. It is intended as an exploration of the frequently sparse minimalist phrasing and textures of the stringed quartet with the innovation of a leading master of the Persian kamancheh and their common bond of playing bowed instruments.

Shy of words, Silent City is entirely interpretive - quite a reach considering the profuse narrative on which it is based. The piece "Beloved Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged" originates from a legend about ill-fated lovers that found expression in a 16th century Turkic poem by Fuzuli. Add in influences of 14th century Italian troubadours and the connections made between that part of Europe and the Islamic world and you gain a sense for the mood that this studio experiment aims to achieve. A large portion of Silent City builds around two versions of a Persian myth. "Ascending Bird" is about the spiritual transcendence achieved through a bird's failed attempts to fly to the sun. The alternative story, "Pavez" ("Flight"), is Kalhor's approach in which he exchanges his kamancheh for a santur, a four-stringed long-necked lute. Then there is the title track itself. "Silent City" is a largely improvised piece reflecting on the idea of a barren world destroyed by human or natural forces. The opening lament is followed by the joyful moods that accompany rebirth and renewal.

Silent City, a studio exploration by exceptional musical talent. Yet there are good reasons that storytellers use words to relate myth and it is a challenge to convey a story without them. Those narratives however, are not the main purpose here, but are the context for Silent City. With that challenging premise understood, Silent City finds new ground with its explorations. - Dick Dorsett

Take Two:

Iran's master of the kamancheh (spike fiddle) is joined by classical string quartet Brooklyn Rider, augmented by bassist Jeffrey Beecher and percussionist Mark Suter, on four selections that bridge the gap between ancient Persian musical modes and modern experimental music with a good many stops in between. The title piece is nearly 30 minutes long and meanders a good deal before building to a satisfactory conclusion. The other tracks - the Zoroastrian imagery of "Ascending Bird" and "Parvaz" and the tragic-sounding "Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged," also radiate an unhurried delicateness that is best enjoyed with undivided attention and rewards such attention with subtle virtuosity and unspoken emotion. While I might like to hear this cast of players tearing into some really incendiary stuff, the beauty of what they do on this disc is undeniable. - Tom Orr