01 Persian SongsPersian Songs
Nexus; Sepideh Raissadat
Nexus 10926 (nexuspercussion.com)

Persian Songs, the 16th album on its own Nexus label (there are numerus others in addition), provides an interesting dual portrait of the veteran Toronto-based, internationally renowned group’s musical roots and multi-branched evolution. It’s also an exhilarating listening experience. Two musical suites are featured on the album, both skillfully arranged by Nexus member and University of Toronto music professor Russell Hartenberger. They provide insights into his – and the group’s – career-long investment in two (often complementary) threads: on one hand 20th century American music, and on the other, music performed outside the Euro-American mainstream.

First up is Moondog Suite, a mellow tribute to the compositions of Louis T. Hardin (1916–1999), a.k.a. Moondog, the outsider American composer, street musician and poet. His music has been cited as an influence on the development of New York musical minimalism. Hartenberger’s caring and crafty arrangements, rearrangements and adaptations for keyboard-centric percussion provide a disarmingly straightforward presentation of Moondog’s tonal contrapuntal melodies. The Suite is capped by Suba Sankaran’s cameo appearance singing the cheery I’m This, I’m That, set in a classical passacaglia form.

The album’s centerpiece is the eight-part Persian Songs, featuring arrangements of songs by the award-winning contemporary Iranian stage director, novelist and songwriter Reza Ghassemi. Musical interpretations of poems by giants of the Persian classical literary period, including Hafez, Sa’adi and Rumi, these songs are evocatively sung and accompanied on the setar by the Iranian vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. Steeped in the rich Persian music tradition from an early age, she has been called “a key figure in the new generation of classical Persian song interpreters.” In 1999 Raissadat took the bold step of giving a solo public performance at the Niavaran Concert Hall in Tehran, the first female vocalist to do so after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Raissadat is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in ethnomusicology at the U. of T. with Dr. Hartenberger among others, just one of the fascinating interconnecting threads on this album. Hartenberger’s arrangements, Raissadat’s singing and Nexus’ precise performances culminate in eight and a half minutes of glorious music making on Az In Marg Matarsid; Bouye Sharab. It’s a powerful illustration of the vibrant and rich transcultural musical tapestry being woven right now, right here in Toronto.

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