Niyaz founder unveils a new set of electro-trad Persian tunes.
Loga Ramin Torkian is a founding member of Niyaz and Axiom of Choice, groups which explore and expand the sonic landscape of Persian classical music. With Mehraab, Torkian's debut solo effort, he teams up with Persian classical singer Khosro Ansari to explore the porous boundary between the classical and the contemporary. Relying mainly upon acoustic instruments, Torkian subtly alters traditional sounds with a variety of recording-studio tweaks and arrangements. The result is a pulsing but hazy exploration of classical Persian sounds, accented by a few decidedly non-traditional elements. As expected of a composer/arranger of Torkian’s skill and experience, it all comes together rather gloriously.
Torkian doesn't tip his hand right away. Opening track "The Wild Deer" lays a bed of quietly jangling guitar beneath its layers of traditional percussion, viol and rabab; the tempo is upbeat but never insistent. The rhythm gallops along nicely thanks to Torkian's wife, vocalist Azam Ali, who doesn't sing on this record but contributes percussion to this and several other tracks. There are no vocals at all the "The Wild Deer," so when Khosro Ansari does appear on "Through the Veil," the listener is more than ready. Alas, this tune is a slight letdown after the first, substituting drone for energy and lacking the propulsive force of the opener. This is soon remedied by "Garden of the Beloved," one of the album’s standout tracks, which sees Khosro emoting in counterpoint to a mass of echoing percussion and ethereal but muscular (is that a contradiction?) strings. The vocals are reliably expressive throughout, regardless of whether the listener is well versed in Farsi. The slight catch in Khosro's voice, and his fluid mastery of the compositions’ complex melodies, underpin the claim that his is "the modern voice of Persian classical music."
From this point on, the album leaps from strength to strength. Title track "Shrine" is, surprisingly enough, the shortest on the album at a whisker shy of four minutes; it's lively enough but mainly serves as a warm-up to standout track "Your Bewitching Eyes", which makes perhaps the heaviest use of electronica and studio elements on the album. A pulsing undercurrent nicely offsets Ansari's heartfelt, rapidfire vocal, while various compressed and expanded sounds linger in the background. Purists might mourn what sound like synthesizer lines and the studio knob-twisting that accompanies the percussion, but in case this isn't already clear: purists should probably avoid this record, unless they are very open-minded purists indeed (another contradiction?). The CD edition of the album contains a "Carmen Rizzo Remix" of "Your Bewitching Eyes" as a bonus track, which ups the electronical elements even further, and slices and dices Ansari's singing. An improvement? You decide.
The back half of the album is strong, with slow, dreamy tracks "Compassion" and "Avaaz" sandwiching the chugging stomp of "The Burning Heart". "Avaaz" comes off as a tone poem more than anything else, with gurgling reverb and snippets of voice to create a series of sounds so abstracted as to create something altogether different from the usual notion of "song". Love it or hate it, it’s an evocative way to round out the album. Torkian may be straying far from the traditional in his consideration of musical heritage, but he undeniably makes for compelling listening. As he and his fellows carve out a niche for themselves in the contemporary music scene, he is allowing Persian music to simultaneously find room to grow and to honor its roots. That's no small thing. Besides, it all kind of rocks.