Album Review

Open Strings: Early Virtuoso Recordings From The Middle East [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

Thurston Hunger   3/5/2014   12-inch, A Library

Sometimes you go to the Screaming Dune, sometimes you settle for
the Screaming Dune to come to you? Packaging art may be stark with
wood-cuts in black and white, but borders are definitely blurred
between East/West and Old/Net. Explorations in string theory and
improvisations of tar, guitar, oud, kamancheh, banjo abound.
Generally the string alone is the thing, although “Surfin’ UAE”
has a little drummer slapping that track’s Dick-Dale-dies-in-the-desert
vibe and a few others have some light accompaniment The first two
(of four!) lps revive recordings from the early 1900’s out of the
EMI catacombs sources mostly from Turkey, but some from Armenia,
Egypt, Syria and Persia before asking to be called Iran. The latter
two lps are responses from current musicians. The album patently
comes with no information, if you would like more especially with a
twist of historicist’s bitter, check out Tony Klein’s research at
A word about that, while we at KFJC get the idea of “their earlier
stuff is better” applying that wholesale to planet Earth is like
a purist refusing to breathe air that isn’t as fresh as it was
100 years ago. Anyways, for KFJC DJ’s and listeners being drawn
in by a killer Sir Richard Bishop cut (recorded with your ear
inside his fingertips) or by the surging modified-banjo on “Emel”
by Paul Metzger and then digging Sami Chawa’s hypnotizing
“Taxim Nahawand Wahda” or proto-rock moves (that big slide up
and down the neck) on “Erabi fil Shara” makes my world better.
The very first track “Homayoun” by Abdul Hussein Khan Shahnazi
sounds almost like an early electric, kind of a metal string on
metal buzz, starting with some fifth half chords that aren’t far
off the Black Sabbath songbook before spinning into improv. Some
gruff vocals or stern commands to his instrument show up on
Shahnazi’s other contribution “Mavaraounnahr.” The latter modern
recordings are evidently a response to their ancestors, while I’m
not sure where the slide blues of Charlie Parr traveled from, the
Balki-Oglu’s “Aydin Oyun Havassi” resonates with Michael (Vibracathedral
Orchestra) Flower’s shimmering “Lake of Fire” or Bruce (Savage
Republic) Licher’s “Mesopotamia” (the latter possibly by way of
Roy Montgomery’s New Zealand). Some of the Taxim numbers seem to
drip solo notes at time and let the silence fill between them before
the more ornate playing takes over, something that connects many of
the old and new works here. Similarly many pieces find the musician
inflecting the same note on the neck versus the next open string in
accelerated moments. Makes me want to believe in Heaven/Jannah where
all involved here could have one Hell/Jahannam of a jam.

-Thurston Hunger

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