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MUSIC REVIEWS

Trio Explores Iran- India Melodic Link

October 20, 1998|DON HECKMAN

The connections between the classical musics of India and Iran stretch back thousands of years, reflecting common roots in the Indo-Persian language and the elemental myths of the ancient religion of Mithraism. Although they have evolved in different fashions over the centuries, the musics retain linkages via the common use of improvisation, their monophonic, often semi-tonal melodic structures (Indian ragas and Persian gushehs) and similar approaches to rhythm.

On Saturday night at the Japan America Theatre, kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, sitarist Shujaat Hussain Khan and tabla drummer Swapan Chaudhuri illustrated some of the intriguing potential that lies within the Indian-Persian musical connection.

The kamancheh, sometimes called the spike fiddle, is similar to both the Western violin and the Indian sarangi. Kalhor, a virtuoso artist, opened the program with a lovely solo exposition of a set of classical gushehs, drawing a remarkable range of sounds from his small but evocative instrument. He was followed by Khan and Chaudhuri, demonstrating the classical aspects of Indian music via an evening raga that featured--especially in the opening alap (a cadenza-like solo movement)--the seductive, sliding melodies of his vocalized style.

The most unusual part of the concert, however, was the second half, in which the trio of artists performed together in an ensemble they call Ghazal (which refers to poetry in Persian and to a song form in India). Playing several selections from their latest CD, "As Night Falls on the Silk Road," they produced a set of utterly captivating music. Neither precisely Indian nor Persian, it was a combination of both, in which the sensual melodizing--culturally different, but emotionally joined--of Kalhor and Khan blended into an irresistible expression of creative musical passion, urgently underscored by Chaudhuri's precise rhythmic accompaniment.

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