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Javid Afsari Rad: Afarinesh

John Kelman By

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Every festival has its sleeper hit, the show that leaves attendees talking long after it's over, and those who missed it wishing they hadn't. Iranian expat Javid Afsari Rad's Molde 2010 performance was, with perhaps 75 people crammed into the small wooden chapel of the Romsdal Museum, one of the festival's most unexpected gems—a gentle but passionate early afternoon show that demonstrated the evocative breadth of his chosen instrument, the 72-stringed santur. For those unable to catch this stunning duo performance with percussionist Kaveh Mahmoudyan, Afarinesh is a chance to find out what all the buzz was about; for those who were at the show, it's the perfect document to remind them just how compelling Rad's performance truly was.

A solo santur set, Rad's Jazzland debut includes many of the songs played at Molde, most notably the haunting "Axis of Love," performed on a minor key-tuned instrument, where Rad builds his melodies gradually from repetitive phrases, sounding like a cross between Laraaji's Ambient Music 3: Days of Radiance (EG, 1980) and how Philip Glass might sound, were he to write for this Persian hammered dulcimer with an ear to Middle Eastern tonalities. Rad also plays "Flames," another minor-keyed piece revolving around simple arpeggios that recall, in their spare simplicity, classical composer Erik Satie's "Gnossienne" series.

Rad—a Norwegian resident for a quarter-century now—draws inspiration from many sources on this set of original compositions and improvisation, including Persian traditionalism and Indian classicism. He also stretches his instrument's potential by exploring tunings beyond the norm, as on the brief "Revelation," where shimmering layers are skewed by microtonal shifts to create a sense of unsettled discord, even amongst some of Rad's most transcendent melodies. With but the second and sixth of the santur tuned a quarter tone beneath the tempered scale, it's a unique and distinctly modern sounding approach that lifts the instrument from its traditional roots.

Pacing is as important as the individual songs themselves, and while Rad's pieces are, indeed, distinct and separate, the common tunings amongst them often create a larger narrative sense, as on the contemplative "Creation," which leads almost seamlessly into the up-tempo "Like a Butterfly," where the previous song's theme is explored and expanded. Similarly, the brighter "Rain" morphs into the more meditative "Destiny," where defined pulse exchanges for rubato expression.

Rad's overall body of work is far more expansive and, in terms of palette, ambitious—ranging from the Iranian percussion group Zerbang, to collaborations with string quintet and full symphony orchestra. But for an album of unadorned beauty and shimmering honesty, Afarinesh is the disc that, perhaps, best introduces Rad's evocative music to an audience that will, hopefully, expand far beyond his country of choice.

Track Listing: Mehvaré Eshqh (Axis of Love); Nahalé Arezo (Plant of Wishes); Soz O Godaz (Flames); Amvaj (Waves); Baran (Rain); Sarnevesht (Destiny); Afarinesh (Creation); Parvanehvar (Like a Butterfly); Goshayesh (Revelation); Zende Shodam (I Am Alive).

Personnel: Javid Afsari Rad: santur.

Title: Afarinesh | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings

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