Hot From the Land of Fire

Azerbaijan: Traditional Music by
Azerbaijan – Traditional Music / Lok-Batan Folklore Group (ARC Music EUCD 2318, 2011)

I don’t have much Azerbaijani music in my collection, so this CD is a welcome addition and a very pleasant discovery. Azerbaijan (sometimes called the “Land of Fire” because of its natural gas resources) is nestled alongside the Caspian Sea and bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran.

Not surprisingly, the country’s traditional music has similarities to that of the surrounding regions. But its basis is largely a set of mugams (from the Arabic maqam), melodic modes around which compositions are formed. Best not to get too academic, though, and instead just enjoy the music.

The lineup of instruments includes a fair number that are found in (or resemble those in) other countries that straddle the Middle East and Central Asia. Melodies are provided by the tar (long-necked lute), kamancheh (spike fiddle), kanun (zither) and garmon (piano accordion), while a thunderous percussion backbone of nagara (double headed drum) and gaval (frame drum) supplies rhythmic muscle.

Pieces with the finesse of classical chamber music (like “Sari Galin” and the opening “Suita”) alternate with soaring passages where the players demonstrate twisting, turning precision that often goes from the whole ensemble blazing away to one or two instruments conversing.

Some fine soloing is presented, particularly on the kamancheh, but it’s primarily a strong ensemble effort that the Lok-Batan Folklore Group is all about here. Prepare yourself for some impressive singing, too: female vocalist Zulfiya Mamedova engages in not-of-this-world warbling that shows the heights to which a human voice can scale, and Sabir Abdullayev (who doubles on gaval) brings a more subdued, pleasingly caressing warmth.

Some of this stuff dazzles via furiously skilled musicianship, and the parts that aren’t as frenzied show there’s more than one sort of fire in Azerbaijan.

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Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.


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