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Published: 2002/01/23
by Jeff Perlman

Over The Wind – Ardavan Kamkar

Traditional Crossroads 80702-4300-2

Certainly you have had the experience of receiving a CD, record or cassette
as a gift, listening to it once, not understanding or knowing how to
categorize it, and burying it away somewhere. Then, weeks, months, or years
later you pull it out again, on a whim, throw it on, and it captivates
you. You wised up in the intervening time, or became more open minded, or
perhaps your mood is just different than it was at the first
listening. Well, that is all well and good when the CD was a gift from
some kooky aunt who you can placate with a smile and an "oh yes, it was
great", but when the CD is one that you have been given to review, it is
quite another story.

I have been sitting on this recording of Ardavan Kamkar, an uncontested
Iranian santur virtuoso, for many months. And I admit it, Jesse, the
second time I listened to it was the day I wrote this review. After my
first listening over half a year ago, I threw up my hands. I knew nothing
about Iranian or Persian music, and couldn't fathom how to write an
intelligent review without some basic knowledge. For his part, Jesse told
me to just write as the ignoramus I was. And, after all, you probably don't
any more about santur music than I, so a santur scholar's opinion wouldn't
have been much use to you anyway.

Well, I'm still the same ignoramus, and here is that review many months
overdue. What I can tell you is this: the CD is beautiful. The notes
soar. The music is harmonically simple, and melodically complex. The
playing is phenomenal often fast, but spiritual and dynamic, not
overbearing. The loose, half-improvised melodies are, according to liner
notes, based in Persian classical music, but I hear elements of Western
music from baroque to minimalism.

The santur is a type of hammered dulcimer, and as such has a rather
percussive buzzing sound, not unlike a harpsichord. However, at least in
the hands of Mr. Kamkar, it allows for more freedom and expressiveness than
I've ever heard in a plunky harpsichord etude. For one thing, there's the
dynamic contrast, both of overarching sections and of subtle variations
between adjacent notes. And then there's the meter, which is free and
changing to instill enthusiasm and set mood.

This recording is a solo instrumental feature which does not beg for any
accompanists. It works both in the foreground and as a backdrop. It sets
a shimmering, contemplative mood. I only wish I had discovered all this
months ago, the first time around.

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