Kayhan Kalhor plays for the people | Bleader

Kayhan Kalhor plays for the people

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In the liner notes to his stunning new album, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor takes the side of his homeland's ordinary citizens rather than its ruling class, embracing music as an instrument of hope. He's vague about what event crystallized this sentiment, though: "During the early period of unrest in my country, I felt very isolated. This was one of the most difficult stages in my life, where darkness and violence seemed to be taking over." Kalhor left Iran at the start of the Islamic revolution in the late 70s—he studied and worked in Italy, Canada, and New York before returning home in the past decade—so it's hard to say if he's referring to that long-ago upheaval or to the recent Green Revolution. But either way, his central point is the same, and gives the album its title: I Will Not Stand Alone (World Village).

He's joined by longtime collaborator Ali Bahrami Fard, who usually plays an Iranian hammer dulcimer called the santour in Kalhor's ensemble. Here both musicians switch to variants of their main instruments: Kalhor plays the shah kaman, custom made for him by Peter Biffin—it's an elaboration of Biffin's hybrid between a tanbur and an erhu, which he calls the tarhu. The shah kaman produces a lower, more somber sound, and the addition of some sympathetic strings beneath the bridge adds a rich resonance. Fard plays a bass santour, which is an octave lower than the traditional version—it fits in perfectly with the shah kaman.

Seven of the eight pieces use one of two different modes in Persian classical music, and both musicians deftly elaborate on the source melodies; the eighth piece is based on a Kurdish song. Students of Persian traditional music generally have these modes and melodies so deeply internalized that they know roughly where things are going during improvised passages, but even in this context the rapport between Kalhor and Fard is remarkable. They seamlessly trade lead roles, shaping shimmering solo lines in one moment and expertly cradling and shading the other player's improvisation in the next, and the melodies overflow with sorrowful beauty. Below you can listen to a lovely track from the new album.

Kayhan Kalhor, "The Laziest Summer Afternoon"

Today's playlist:

Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer, HNH (Clean Feed)
Various artists, Rare Collectable and Soulful (Kent)
Anne Briggs, Sing a Song for You (Fledg’ling)
Trygve Seim and Andreas Utnem, Purcor: Songs for Saxophone and Piano (ECM)
Various artists, Rara in Haiti (Soul Jazz)

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