Trio Chemirani: Dawâr

Iranian-French trio makes ancient Persian music new.
Trio Chemirani
Harmonia Mundi

You wake up with a start and jump to your feet. You would have sworn there was something right there, something right next to you from a place beyond this world, prodding you to wake. As you process this strange feeling — this insufficient information — your surroundings begin to reveal itself. Through the faint light you see a figure across the room. It’s not exactly that the figure is aged, but that the presence of this figure has a quality outside of time, a peaceful, observant quality that somehow managed to outlive life itself. It is sitting on the floor in yogic meditation and appears to be surrounded by artful, complex objects of wood, leather, and strings arrayed via a focal point at which the figure commands. You make out that the figure has many limbs, and sense a transcendence of mortal toil as these arms begin to make their work skillfully on the objets d’art. The fingers nimbly roll and patter; the palms’ heels smack confounding resonance throughout the drum and consequently the room. You stand slack-jawed, your eyes fixed in the concentrative stare of a child learning to read.

As you step toward this figure, you see a different side that is deftly plucking melodies from a foreign scale while droning on an earthen pitch. There is no “happy major” or “sad minor” here. These notes exist in the in-between, and the dichotomy of happy/sad simply does not apply to the emotional quality of the organized sound emanating from this sleep interruptor seated in your chamber. “What… Is that… Am I…,” you think to yourself, but can’t manage to come to a thought as the figure’s quick rhythms, sharp tones, and unintelligible poetics hold fast in your consciousness.

The voice with deep, resonate presence beautifully elides and skitters in a Middle Eastern tongue. A translation reads “Who lives in the intimacy of the heart remains / Companion to the sanctuary. / Who does not know this / continues to challenge it.” The words are spoken here, though voice is not from here. These are the words from the 14th century poet Hafiz of Shiraz, known as the Persian Chaucer.

The French label, Harmonia Mundi, organized the release of Dawâr from the percussion masters Djamchid Chemirani (b. 1942, Iran), Bijan Chemirani, and Keyvan Chemirani (b. 1968, France). The father-and-sons trio was established in 1988, and their discography stretches back into the ’90s. The most prominent instrument on this recording is the classical Persian drum, the zarb, a wooden, goblet-shaped, single-headed drum about 18 inches tall with typically a goat or camel skin used to create the playing surface.

The patriarch of the trio, Djamchid, as a young man would make the trip by bus to study with Hossein Teherani, a great zarb master. Since there was no standardized notation, Djamchid would observe and mimic the great master’s technique without transcription or written records and spend the return bus ride deep in thought, memorizing the lessons of the great master. Through devotion and practice, Djamchid himself became a zarb master and taught his sons, Keyvan and Bijan, the way of the zarb.

RATING 7 / 10