Highway revisited

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The third release by Ghazal, a trio marrying classical Persian and Indian musics, travels a now familiar route. As in its first two recordings, Lost Songs of the Silk Road and As Night Falls on the Silk Road, this intriguing ensemble combines the sound of the kamancheh (an ancient Persian "spike fiddle") with those of the Indian sitar and tabla. When Ghazal first appeared on the world music scene, this project seemed both innovative and logical, since the two traditions were once intertwined (from the 13th to the 18th centuries).

Anyone who’s heard the first two CDs will immediately recognize, on Moon Rise, the more melancholy sound that results from (Persian) melody fragments – not (Indian) ragas – underlying the group’s improvisations. Truly haunting lyrical motifs – micromelodies recalling ancient civilizations that traded silk and spices as well as poetry and musical ideas – dominate the interchanges in all of Ghazal’s material. These are most plaintively expressed by Kayhan Kalhor’s bowed kamancheh and by the husky singing of sitar virtuoso Shujaat Husain Khan. Western listeners, accustomed to flashy sitar-and-tabla duets, at first might not appreciate Khan’s more languid, less edgy approach to the string instrument. But the Indian tradition has certainly provided him with plenty of soulful antecedents, from the late Zia Mohiuddin Dagar to the venerable Ali Akbar Khan.

Anyone who has learned to love a tradition and its conventions – such as blues, maqam, shakuhachi, zydeco, etc. – knows that value doesn’t always derive from radical change. Ghazal, taking up age-old roots connections and the power of song, makes its way through a profound and now firmly established set of feelings.

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