February 2008

Winter Nowruz
presented by Small World Music
February 24, 2008 Lula Lounge Toronto
Roudaki and Hafez meet Emerson, Lake & Palmer
by Laila Boulos with photos by Mike Colyer
On this cold evening, the party that was eventually to take place inside Lula Lounge had already begun on the sidewalk as people were gathered in front of the building, animatedly greeting friends and family.

Once the omnipresent Andrew Craig of CBC Radio 2 took to the stage, coercing the energized room to applaud on cue did not take much effort as beatmap were assembling themselves behind him.

The applause and excitement emanating from the audience could not have been greater had the room been filled with all the musicians' mothers!

With a splitting-at-the-seams packed room in front of them, beatmap transported us into a deep forest with the creative use of animal and nature sounds backed by the who-goes-there effects of their initial piece. Seductive introductions to many of the pieces were the result of Sina Salimi's wizardry on the santur — a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer.

Once Salimi's haunting vocals were blended with the chameleonic talents of Wajma Soroor, the effect was explosive. Her creativity and range were superlative as one minute she vocally conjured up a flute while the next she sounded very Björkish in style and range. As her voice danced through Salimi's, the audience was drawn further into the eye of the storm.

The funkiness was oozing from every corner of the room on many pieces, especially the last song of the set as bassist Reza Moghaddas charged forth with an extended display of derrière swivel-inducing (on behalf of the audience, not Reza!) licks. Neil Gardiner who exhibited many trippy odes to progressive rock during the evening with his command of the keys, also dazzled with his stints on accordion.

Contrasting with the coolness of the bass and keys was Alan Davis’ dexterity on the smoky darbuka and even more so on the bendir which was brought forth, sadly, on only one piece. The playful reverberation of the daf in both Davis’, and later, Roozbeh Hariri's hands, also provided exquisite texture.

Beatmap's pieces were redolent with citrus salad freshness that contrasted with their unexpected dramatic drop off the cliff endings. Listening to them play during their beginning set, and later, with the whole ensemble, was at once exciting, and soul stirring. A freewheeling, childlike fusion of music such as funk, rock, African and Middle Eastern and innovation in blending the instruments of all worlds was evident in beatmap's songs such as "Hope (Nava)", and "Come On".

Neil Gardiner
After the break, the room took on a much more deep and mystical aura as Roozbeh Hariri, Amir Koushkani and Soley Vaseghi arrived on the deserted stage and, unannounced, began playing. Koushkani and Vaseghi are both involved with the Lian Ensemble, a musical group based in Los Angeles which fuses the history and mysticism of Persian music with postmodern jazz. In 2004, this ensemble performed concerts in both Los Angeles and San Francisco as fundraisers for survivors of the Bam earthquake.

Koushkani and Vaseghi both have a lifelong involvement in Sufism (tasawwuf in Arabic) which has been referred to as the inner, esoteric, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. This, along with their fascination with the works of poets such as Hafez, Roudaki, Rumi and Sohrab Sepehri, deeply colours their music. Sadly, these artists experienced the suffering and pain of having their work and performances suppressed after the 1979 Revolution in Iran.

Witnessing Vaseghi perform, one can easily see how these influences permeate his music. With a voice resonating with emotion as his facial expressions and movements evoke suffering and longing, the power and depth is felt on every level. As he draws his audience in, no comprehension of the language is required as his stories, steeped in history, and the experiences of his ancestors, turn as pages of a book in his very emotional storytelling.

These emotional vocals, combined with the now-you-see-them-now-you-don't speed of Hariri's fingers on tombak and the soulful playing of Koushkani on setar pulled the audience back into an ancient world of soul-piercing heaviness. Contrasting with the musical patterns of beatmap's repertoire, the many pieces of this set came to a gentle whispering end.

For the finale, everyone returned on stage except, unfortunately, Amir Koushkani who had somehow disappeared in the transition. In this ensemble Vaseghi's 'thundering down from the heavens' voice smoothly found its place as his vocal muscles easily carried the weight of all the instruments.

It was truly mind-blowing how the trippy, spacey trio of the drum kit, keys and bass blended and flowed easily through the maze created by the santur and tombak. The interplay of Soroor's ethereal voice with Vaseghi's oceanic vocal depths and Salimi's understated singing set the room to high speed spin as emotion was squeezed out of every pore. At one point, Soroor's microphone was set to reverb — as goosebumps appeared around the room! The magical, mystical tapestry of sound woven on this evening was one of intricate patterns.

As the concert ended to a standing ovation, Howard Laurie who had deftly been working the sound system, announced playfully on the microphone, "You can make a little bit more noise than that. I don't know if they can hear you." The crowd laughed and applauded but, this being a Sunday, were anxious to return home.

For those misguided souls who were somewhere else on that magical evening CBC recorded the event (referred to as both Tehran meets Toronto and The Axis of Music) for a future presentation on Canada Live (CBC Radio 2). It will be broadcast on March 20, 2008, which is the actual Persian New Year, referred to as Nowruz or Norooz.

Wajma Soroor

Soley Vaseghi
Roozbeh Hariri – tombak
Amir Koushkani – setar
Sina Salimi – santur
Wajma Soroor – vocals
Soley Vaseghi – vocals

Alan Davis –percussion
Neil Gardiner – keyboards, accordion
Reza Moghaddas – bass

Listen to this concert @ CBC Radio 2 – Concerts On Demand.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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