Ardavan Kamkar 

Over the Wind, Astraken Cafe ECM

As we enter the new century, many forms of American music seem to be in a worrisome state of stagnation, but there are other cultures that are experiencing exciting periods of development. Two new recordings of Middle Eastern music demonstrate this point beautifully. Ardavan Kamkar has been able to take substantial technical and stylistic steps beyond the high levels already attained by recent generations of santur players (the santur is a Persian member of the hammered-dulcimer family). Kamkar's compositions on Over the Wind demonstrate a greater emotional range than those of earlier masters, with the mood subtly changing from track to track. The recent surge in interest in Persian music may bring new listeners Kamkar's way, and they won't be disappointed.

Anouar Brahem's highly personal musical vision refers to the great traditions of oud playing from all over the Arab world, and he has also worked with jazz and other international musicians. His trio on Astrakan Cafe unites him with clarinetist Barbaros Erkose and percussionist Lassad Hosni. The three interpret themes originating from Azerbaijan to Tanzania to Tunisia, creating an effortless synthesis marked by understated passion and exemplary interplay. Listeners who have become wary of synthetic blends of different musics -- due perhaps to the often superficial efforts made by American musicians -- will have nothing to fear from this well-versed threesome.

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