Gulizar Turkish Music Ensemble – Music of the Whirling Dervishes (ARC Music EUCD 2086, 2007)
Shahram Nazeri and Hafez Nazeri – The Passion of Rumi (QuarterTone Productions QTCD 1010, 2007)
There’s plenty of people nowadays who will hesitate to embrace anything having to do with Islam, no matter how culturally, artistically or spiritually rewarding that embracing may turn out to be. It’s an unfortunate sign of our times and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. People interested in beautiful music that honors the life and work of one of Islam’s most influential figures, however, will find the sounds on these two CDs enjoyably engaging, even if a religious experience is not the goal. Both are centered around the words of Sufi poet and mystic Mevlana Rumi, born in Persia eight centuries years ago, whose message of love and compassion only gets more relevant. And both contain music that can be serious and contemplative, but above all celebratory.
Music of the Whirling Dervishes begins with sung Koranic excerpts followed by a ney flute solo that eventually gives way to the entire Gulizar Ensemble emerging in a slowly intensifying manner with mournful, longing group vocals and precisely nuanced instrumental work. The first track builds for a mind-altering 53 minutes, finally concluding its achieved ecstatic state with a kanun (zither) solo.
Actual whirling dervishes may not be right there in front of you, but it’s easy to see them in the minds’ eye by that point. The other (naturally much shorter) tracks have a similar yearning-for-the-divine feel, combining (as on that first marathon selection) specifically set scale progressions, improvised instrumental passages, praise poems and vocal movements that are both structured and free flowing. The lyrics are lifted from Rumi’s text’s or those of his followers. If you want to read up on the academic side of it all, the liner notes are packed with pertinent information. Me, I just got blissfully lost in the music.
On The Passion of Rumi the father and son vocal/composing team of Shahram and Hafez Nazeri helm a smaller group comprised of setar and barbat lutes, kammancheh violin and percussion. The instruments mainly serve as a framework for the elder Nazeri’s stunning vocals, which range from lullaby-like intimacy to operatic splendor. Rumi’s works are again the lyrical foundation and though classical Persian music is a key source of the arrangements, the pieces are by no means tradition-bound.
As with the whirling dervish disc, simply allowing the beauty and mystery of the music to carry you away is the best approach.