Monday, March 17, 2014

Dastan Ensemble with Shahram Nazeri: Homage to Molavi (Rumi)

This wasn't chosen based on what came before (Van Morrison's mystical Astral Weeks), but it is a nice unintentional pairing.  Through Eternity is a fantastic rendering of the mystical and spiritual music of the Sufi branch of Islam and devoted to the great Persian poet, jurist and theologian Jalalaldin Muhammad Balkhi Molvai, or Rumi, recorded by the Dastan Ensemble of Persian musicians accompanied by the superb vocalist Shahram Nazeri at a concert in Washington, D.C. in 1997.

Rumi was born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan within the Persian empire and died in Turkey at age 66.  Theology was a family occupation, but Molavi added work as a judge and mystical poet to his life's work, the latter coming to the fore when Rumi was in his late thirties and met Shams Tabrizi, a figure of some mystery who is said to have mentored the younger man in the mysteries of Sufism.

Afterwards, Molavi became a prolific poet, composing some 2,500 ghazals, a poetic form usually between 5 and 15 couplets, dedicated the Shams Tabrizi, another 25,000 rhyming couplets known as the Masnavi, and 1,600 quatrains called the Rubaiyat (not the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a Persian poet, astronomer and mathematician who lived a century or so prior to Rumi.)

Rumi's poetry speaks often of "love," but this is code for the relationship between the believer and the Creator, not between people and there are many other similarly "coded" metaphors, including the drinking of wine and the resulting drunkenness that symbolizes the ecstasy of mystical love.  The beautiful flow and smooth structures of his poetry, even rendered into English from Farsi, is also remarkable and YHB had the pleasure of reading Rumi's works some twenty years ago.

This gorgeous tribute to Molavi by the Dastan Ensemble is framed around the incredible vocal work of Shahram Nazeri, known as a preeminent singer of both Sufi and Persian classical music.  His clear and strong voice is highlighted by the demanding staccato (if it can be called that) embellishments that are a centerpiece of Persian vocalizing. 

Nazeri is backed by the excellent ensemble of Hamid Motebassem on the lute-like tar, the backbone of Persian classical music and setar, the latter being the sitar of north Indian classical music; Hossein Behroozi-Nia on the barbat, another lute-like instrument known as the oud in Arabic-speaking countries; Kayham Kalhor on the setar and the kamancheh, the latter being the original fiddle that is the great ancestor of those instruments found later in Asia and Europe; and Pejman Hadadi, on the tombak, a drum in the shape of a goblet, and the daf, a Sufi ceremonial instrument that is a large frame drum with rows of metal rings on the inside to make a distinctive ringing percussive sound.

This concert focuses on two types of Persian modal structures: the Bayat-e-Esfahan and the Mahur, with five pieces performed in the first and a longer single work from the second.  The first track "Dar Asheghee Peeceede'am" (Intertwined in Love) uses twenty-one couplets from Rumi.  The last piece, ""Del Meeravad Ze Dastam" (My Heart is Slipping from My Grasp) takes a much shorter sampling from the work of another masterful Persian poet, Hafez, who lived in the century following Rumi, but who had similar thematic concerns.

Persian music is among the most majestic of any in the world and this a performance by true masters of the Sufi devotional form, rendering sound in a fashion that does great justice to the spirit of the Sufi poetic paragons of Rumi and Hafez.

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