This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
Rumi from The Guest House
In the Persian classical music tradition ‘Daramad’ refers to the process of beginning, appearing or emerging. So Daramad has arrived, the new CD release from Alex Courtin’s Parenthèses Records which ably exemplifies this label’s aim: to make music that sits at the cross roads between tradition and continuum. In this case the crossroads are those of Middle Eastern music and improvised jazz.
There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.
Rumi from A Community Of The Spirit
On this CD are five participants, each a multi-instrumentalist. Collectively they play at least seventeen instruments: saz and guitar (Reza Mirzaei); oud, tabla and riq (Michael Zolker); double bass and tar (Phillip Waldron); soprano and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, tárogató, hulusi, suling and bottle reedpipe (Mark Cain); and tombak, daf and cajón (Saeed Danesh). The arrangement of the five performers’ names on the back cover of the CD reinforces the sense of innovation within tradition: bookending the list are the classically trained Iranian musicians, Reza Mirzaei (above) and Saeed Danesh (below). Pictured are four of these five musicians: Michael Zolker cradling an oud, Mark Cain carrying a clarinet, Reza Mirzaei holding a saz, and Saeed Danesh, handling a daf. The fifth contributor, Philip Waldron, was not available at the time of the photo shoot but on the album back cover notes he is especially credited for his fine musicianship, both on the album and during his tenure with Daramad.
So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.
Rumi from Where Everything Is Music
Implicit in the word ‘tenure’ (from tenire, to hold) is the possibility of letting go, of transience. Fittingly Daramad, as suggested by Reza Mirzaei’s front cover logo—a calligraphy of fire etched onto its own shimmering afterimages—is a somewhat fluid incarnation: since the time of the recording Philip has departed and Daramad has now morphed into a sextet with Tara Tiba on vocals and Kate Pass on double bass.
Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins
that are lute strings that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.
Rumi from The Diver’s Clothes Lying Empty
Oud, saz, tar: these three-letter strings spell the names of the stringed instruments that, along with the more familiar double bass and guitar, are featured on this album. Oud and saz are varieties of lute. Typically played with a wooden plectrum, the pear-shaped oud has the shorter neck and is fretless; the saz, also known as the baglama, has a brighter, more sitar-like, sound. The tar, a long-necked and waisted instrument, seems to have bequeathed its name to sitar and guitar.
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
Tabla, riq, tombak, daf and cajón are the percussion array; their names beat an alternation of syllables: two, one, two, one, two. The tabla is likely already familiar. The rik was born from the daf and is a wooden frame-drum with jingles—thus, it is a type of tambourine. The tombak is the single-headed goblet drum of Persia, the principal and oldest percussion instrument of Persian music. The daf is a large frame-drum, generally without jingles, usually used as an accompaniment either to vocal or instrumental forces. (And deft on the daf drums Danesh!) The cajón, a box-drum, embodies the spirit of jazz improvisation in its 18th century Afro-Peruvian origins: one tale has it that this instrument was created by the Spaniards’ Peruvian slaves from crates in which cod had been stored; another version (less fishy but just as likely) holds that cajón were African percussion instruments disguised as seats or stools in response to the Spanish ban on their slaves’ music.
All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.
Aside from the more familiar saxophones and clarinet, Daramad features other reed instruments. The tárogató is a Hungarian 19th century reed instrument that looks like a wooden soprano saxophone. This somewhat mournful-sounding instrument is actually Persian in origin, though it has been significantly modified. The names hulusi and suling suggest respectively their Chinese and Indonesian origins. A Chinese bamboo-and-gourd free-reed instrument, the hulusi has a descriptive name: Hulu is ‘gourd’ and si, referring to the pure quality of the sound, is ‘silk’. The suling is the bamboo flute of the Indonesian gamelan ensemble. The bottle reedpipe used on Daramad emerges as Mark Cain’s own invention, constructed from a plastic drink bottle and a length of pvc conduit, with a small plastic reed attached.
Every moment and place says,
“Put this design in your carpet!”
Rumi from Put This Design In Your Carpet
Daramad proffer a key to approaching their music, likening it to a Persian carpet woven of many strands. This image is very suitable: Isfahan, the title of the first of the 8 tracks on this CD, is so clearly identified as a centre of Persian carpet making that it has gifted its name to a kind of rug known as an Isfahani. Appropriately, the Persian rug also carries the memory of its role in the One Thousand and One Nights as a magical means of transport: Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon other site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place near at hand or distant many a day’s journey and difficult to reach. Whilst this may be a reference to the ‘function’ of a prayer rug, it seems especially apt where music is the d’rug of choice.
A bright weaver’s shuttle flashes back and forth,
Rumi from “Where Are We?”
To traverse a Persian rug requires a crossing of borders, those often geometrically symmetrical boundaries that frame the interior, the central field, of the carpet. The pieces of music on Daramad unfold by means of a similar traversal. Generally, each piece looms into view as Mirzaei and Zolker reprise an introduction on strings (combinations of saz, oud, and guitar). Then a series of motifs occur—melodies woven of different instrumental combinations with near-symmetrical variations of inversion and repetition—bordering a central field wherein occur more ‘solo’ improvisations. Following these improvisations, the music leaves this centre and crosses to the farther shore of the opposite border, in a progression wherein motifs that paved the way in are reencountered on the way out—a closing enclosure.
A carpet overall is not independent of the separate threads that knot it, and the aural focus during these pieces is dynamic, zooming in, now here on a colour or shape, then there on another melody or motif. Focus may follow a skein, briefly distinct, which later resolves, reabsorbed into the pattern of a larger and continually changing whole. This compositional methodology (as well as the number and variety of the tracks) allows each performer and each instrument to surface individually as bright threads that cannot be untangled from the collective fabric. Reza Mirzaei has composed two pieces on this album, Isfahan and Dashti. Dashti refers to one of the Dastgahs, the modal systems of traditional Persian art music, on which a performer produces extemporizations. Fitting in with the somewhat formal tenor of these titles, Cain’s solos on these tracks are respectively on the deeper-toned and more gravitas-laden bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. Cain’s own penchant for wordplay surfaces in the titles of each of his compositions, Zornery and Tigris Eye. Zornery clearly references composer/saxophonist John Zorn and appropriately, after a Moorish introduction, features dual saxophony, soprano and tenor.
The compositions featured on this album successfully attempt a balancing of the novel within the traditionally classical. Caspian Winds is by contemporary composer Omar Faruk Tekbilek, a Turkish multi-instrumentalist. His favoured instrument is the ney, a reed flute, and, in a tribute to Faruk and to the plasticity of jazz, Cain features his invented plastic bottle reedpipe on this track. The other-wordly Galactica, a composition from Michael Zolker, features the distinctive sounds of both hulusi and suling. Additional winds, blown by a bigger breath, have been dubbed into this track afterwards. Philip Waldron’s contribution, Magpie, moves at different tempos, Zolker walking, unhurried and spacious, before accelerating into flight. Waldron’s bass is sinuous and eloquent in its varied negotiations with percussion and string. Lamma Bada, the final track, demonstrates a further continuity with tradition, as this well-known and oft-played composition dates, incredibly, from 8th century Moorish Spain. Although in its vocal version this is apparently a love lyric, it seems well chosen here as a closing track, as overall it also reprises, serially, tones of farewell.
For the final farewell—a matchless instruction for Listening—return to Rumi:
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest
and let the spirits fly in and out.
Rumi from Where Everything is Music
Find Daramad on Facebook