Happy 1390!

Yes, it’s Nowrūz–the Persian New Year.  Last year I had the pleasure of playing a Nowrūz party for a Bahá’í congregation.  The best part of that–other than getting to eat traditional Persian food and desserts (yum)–was getting to hear two fabulous Persian Classical musicians.  In MUNCIE, Indiana of all places!  Here’s a short video I took of Ehsan and Behrouz Kousari (Santour and Zarb, respectively):

il Troubadore ended the celebration, but I could have just listened to the Kousari brothers forever!  It turns out that Ehsan Kousari is also a Santour builder–there’s a short documentary of him at the EVIA (Ethnographic Video for Instruction & Analysis) Digital Archive in a collection titled “Indiana Musical Instrument Makers and their Craft: Field Interviews and Demonstrations (2005).”

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Kayhan Kalhor and the Persian kamancheh at Tully Scope

Kayhan Kalhor playing the Persian kamancheh

Yeah, I know–technically it’s Brooklyn Rider and Kayhan Kalhor at Tully Scope, but even the Lincoln Center website lists Kayhan Kalhor first.  But after a slightly negative review of Brooklyn Rider at the Washington Post, maybe it’s better this way as Evan Tucker only had great things to say about Kalhor:

Brooklyn Rider also performed four pieces that its violinist Colin Jacobsen wrote or arranged to include the legendary Iranian musician Kayhan Kalhor. After mere seconds from Kalhor’s kamancheh – an Iranian viol- one realized what Brooklyn Rider lacks. The moment Kalhor’s bow crossed the strings, the synagogue was transformed from a trendy venue into a musical shrine. Whenever Kalhor was spotlighted, Jacobsen’s music changed from ethno-kitsch to profound rumination.

Midway through the concert, Kalhor gave as extraordinary an improvisation as any music lover could wish to hear. All it took was one instrument, one man, and one melody extracted from one chord to uncover thousands of possibilities constructed from simple means.

A musician this brilliant should not have to play second fiddle – or, in this case, second kamancheh. Asking Kayhan Kalhor to play with Brooklyn Rider is like asking W.C. Handy to play with Blues Traveler. Both Brooklyn Rider and Blues Traveler are enjoyable groups that popularize great musical traditions. One immediately hears how distant their music is from greatness, however, when confronted with the real thing.

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The Golden Voice of Cambodia

Greg Cahill's "The Golden Voice"
The Golden Voice

A few weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to watch Greg Cahill’s docufilm about Cambodian vocalist, Ros Sereysothea, The Golden Voice. I was only mildly disappointed. Not for the quality of the film–it is beautifully done–but because there wasn’t enough focus on, well, the music (probably also the biggest issue I had with Olivier Dahan’s docu-film about French Chanteuse, Édith Piaf , La Vie en Rose).


I suppose I’m just a sucker for really “dry” (I quote it because to me they aren’t really that “dry”–hah!) and serious “documentaries” about music or musical genres. Something along the lines of, say, Nasser Taghvai’s documentary Dress Rehearsal: The Brave Hurr’s Ta’Zieh, a Ta’Zieh (Persian Passion Play/Opera), ; or Derek Bailey and Siân Busby’s documentary of the Lincoln Center’s production of The Peony Pavilion (Mǔdāntíng), a Kunju (Chinese Opera) piece.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the dramatized biographies–or that I actually enjoy the genre docs more. I do believe the former are much easier to watch, and likely more pleasurable. But there’s something intellectually satisfying, from a musician’s standpoint, about the latter. See, while the bio-docs focused on things that we all have in common with each other–at the expense of erasing the differences, the genre-docs focused on highly developed Art music (Art theatre, maybe?) hat are so foreign to Western Opera/Musical that it takes no effort to accentuate the differences.

I understand that this is a very unfair comparison on many different levels, but I’m just trying to make some sense about what are the things about particular documentary[-like] films that work for me using a few examples I can think of off the cuff. I’ll definitely be coming back to this as I get more in depth with the documentaries that I have in various stages of [in]completion.