Modern Iran (technically the Islamic Republic of Iran) is home to one of the world's oldest civilizations. The former Persian Empire was especially noted for its artistic traditions, including Persian classical music, which is still a prominent performance style in 2021. The current government is not known for openness to Western influence, as exemplified by censorship of internet content and the banning or censoring of Western movies in Iran, so the country does not look like it would be receptive to any sort of music with Western influences . But music is like a desert flower, able to find purchase in the most hostile environments; and the artistic impulse among Iranian musicians will not be denied.
Quartet Diminished was established in 2013 by guitarist Ehsan Sadigh. This is their third album, following Station One (Hermes Records, 2015) and Station Two (Hermes Records, 2018). Their music is stylistically diverse, drawing freely from contemporary jazz, art rock and avant-garde music. The membership has been relatively stable. Sadigh (electric guitar) has had band mates Mazyar younessi (piano, voice) and Rouzbeh Fadavi (drums) on all three albums. Sohil Peyghambari (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone) joined on the second album and appears again here. Guest Colin Bass (bass guitar) technically makes the quartet a quintet, the first time the group has had an instrument explicitly devoted to the bass function.
The title tune opens the set with a ponderous theme underlaid by steady drums and skittering piano. Sadigh's guitar takes over the rhythm, joined by piano and bass clarinetuntil the full band finally kicks in. The driving ostinato continues until it finally gives way briefly to a three way conversation between guitar, piano and bass clarinet. There is space for brief clarinet and guitar solos, but it is very much an ensemble sound (which may even be substantially composed rather than improvised). "Rhapsody" begins with atmospheric sounds before guest Colin Bass' plaintive vocals take center stage (sung in English). A lovely ballad, and a marked contrast, which then gives way to a powerful rhythmic ostinato, finally building to a burning guitar solo. The track recalls both King Crimson and Nik Bärtsch, encapsulating the band's stylistic range.
"Speechless Pt. 2" (the title may be a reference to "Speechless Rhythm" on Station One) opens with a rhythmic flurry that leads into a spacious legato section. Peyghambar's: bass clarinet gets a lengthy feature spot, and younessi's gentle piano brings it to a lyrical close. "Mood Pt. 3" (Station Two contains "Mood Pt. 1-2") concludes the album in a contemplative mood. Long soprano saxophone lines lead into a final ostinato. Fadavi plays a restrained drum solo underneath before it ends with a sustained guitar chord. Quartet Diminished is an accomplished group with a distinctive collective sound. There are just enough Middle Eastern sounds to remind the listener where they are from, but they also have an international identityand a skill set comparable to musicians anywhere in the world.
Station Three; Rhapsody; Speechless Pt. 2; Mood Pt. 3.