Cross-cultural musical intersections haven't exactly been rare in recent decades--but in nearly every one there's been a white guy directing traffic. Whether it's George Harrison tossing off sloppy sitar lines on Revolver, Michael Brook chilling out with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or Ry Cooder sitting in with every non-Anglo musician he can find, most ethnic music that gets prominent play in the English-speaking world is tempered by Anglo traditions. The California label Water Lily Acoustics has been working to change this, focusing increasingly on whitey-free experiments, like its pairing of Indian classical guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with Arabic oud master Simon Shaheen a few years ago. But whereas some of those matches have felt artificial, more hip concept than genuine communication, Kayhan Kalhor and Shujaat Hussain Khan, together known as Ghazal, overwhelm the listener with the depth of their understanding and musical compassion. Kalhor, who was born and trained in Iran but left just prior to the Islamic revolution, plays the kamancheh, an ancient spiked fiddle, while India's Khan is a sitar master. Despite the differences between the Persian classical music system (dastgah) and the Indian one (raga), there are several scales in both where the intervals overlap. Kalhor and Khan exploit this common ground to find a breathtaking new voice and convey a rich spirituality that requires no literal translation. On last year's Lost Songs of the Silk Road and the new As Night Falls on the Silk Road (both on Shanachie), prodded by the tabla playing of Swapan Chaudhuri, the duo engages in gorgeous, remarkably intuitive, increasingly elaborate improvisations that build on simple melodic statements laid out at the start of each lengthy piece. As heard on his recent solo album, Scattering Stars Like Dust (Traditional Crossroads), Kalhor's a modernist working within a traditional form; on the solo CD he incorporates Kurdish folk melodies into Persian classical music with the same grace he brings to his meeting with Khan. The duo will be joined here by tabla player Sandeep Das. Friday, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo; uncredited photo by Ira Landgarten.