Compact Disc: Sony Music SAN 491951 2
An Iranian native now residing in Paris, Abed Azriť is endowed with one of those utterly unforgettable and hair-raising voices. While narrow in scope, his rich baritone is extremely expressive and emotive, charged with a gentle but very penetrating power. This emotional intensity bonds naturally with his penchant for setting to music Arabian poems with strong mystical leanings. Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat -- one of literature's truly famous collections of spiritual poetry, not unlike equally well-loved and translated works by Hafiz, Kabir, Rumi and Tagore -- served as the conceptual inspiration and lyrical source for eight of the nine tracks. The liner notes recount that Khayyam, the son of a tent-maker, was born in 1040 in Nishapur/Persia to become, at the age of thirty, "an unparalleled scholar, geometrician, physicist, mathematician, philosopher and man of medicine". He composed his quatrains of spiritual inebriation in literal wine taverns that, during a time of great orthodoxy, served as the meeting grounds for freethinking rebellious men. The lyrics from "Between yesterday and tomorrow" are a great example for the pervasive and strangely intoxicated yet relaxed mood of the album: "Keep yourself from worries and sorrow, seize with all your might this fleeting life, yesterday is already far, tomorrow not yet arrived; be happy for a moment, this moment is your life; fill the bountiful cup, life is disgrace, drunkenness grace."
To add further gravitas to the lyrical
material, the last track is simply entitled "Ali" and dedicated to
the historical Ali Ibn Ali Taleb, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin who married
his daughter Fatimah. He not only became one of the first converts to the
new religion of Islam but, after the Prophet's passing in 632, the fourth
Caliph and Muhammad's spiritual successor to the Shiites. His assassination
in 661, as well as the deaths of his two sons (Hassan by poison and Hussain
in the battle of Karbala), created one of the schisms in Islam still alive
today. Ali's writings strongly influenced the more esoteric aspects of Islam
and can be found in various movements known as the 'Sufis'. One glance at
the exclamations of this track shows why the orthodoxy simply couldnít
tolerate such men: ďÖI am the Message supreme, I am the straight way,
I am the key to the invisible, the lantern of the hearts, I am the awaited
Mahdi, the Christ of the end of timeÖĒ Organized religion doesnít
well tolerate clear signs of such successive liberations and prefers to
denounce all comers past the original founder.
What distinguishes Omar Khayyam from Azriťís earlier work isnít the mystical mood enhanced by strangely chromatic progressions, but the accompanying ensemble. The Oriental percussion of Adel Shams still appears, as do the Turkish Ney flute and qanoun zither, but the main anchor is a string quintet, made up of two violins, viola, cello and double bass. This surprising but eminently suitable conjunction -- with the gently rolling rhythms, the haunting thematic motifs injected by a modal saxophone, piano or accordion figures, the rich timbres of bowed and plucked strings -- makes for a very unique setting that is impossible to plug conveniently into a specific cultural context. As he did with Suerte [líempreinte digital/Harmonia Mundi ED13029/HMCD 83], and despite the obvious Middle-Eastern roots, Azriť fashions once again a thoroughly believable and deeply captivating but entirely fictional musical milieu. On Suerte, it was a Moorish court in Al-Andalus. On his latest, Venessia, itís a Goddess worship scenery directed to the spirits of Venice, Venýlula and Venýsia. On Omar Khayyam, the apparent origins lack a readily assignable specific place and time in history. One thing theyíre not Ė contemporary. The visions they conjure up are ancient, carried aloft a soft breeze from hidden monasteries and desert oases, from remote but peaceful places dedicated to the inner mysteries. It feels most appropriate to simply call them timeless songs that emanate from holy places in another dimension and, in the weave of magical sounds, hold the dreams and higher aspirations of meditators of all faiths and persuasions.
Omar Khayyam is for the kind of listener who feels instinctively attracted to New Age and Ambient/Trance but finds himself decrying the relative lack of originality and depth in these genres. Despite the Arabian lyrics, this album does not require familiarity or great exposure with Middle-Eastern musical culture. Though unusual in some of their progressions, the harmonic foundation material is Western and readily accessible, and Azriťís singing doesnít rely on Oriental scales that can sometimes sound out-of-tune to listeners used to the Western tempered scale. To boot, and as with his other albums, recording quality is once again top-notch and even benefits from hdcd encoding. Very highly recommended then!