Various Artists

Music in the World of Islam, Vol. 5: Reeds & Bagpipes [Tangent]

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With each volume in this series partioned off to a different instrument family, this might be the side that gets the most turntable time. After all, what more potent image of Islamic music is there then the snake charmer with his strange horn, mesmerizing reptiles and passers-by alike? By choosing performances from a range of territory that would have worn out Alexander the Great, editor Jeanette Jenkins ensures that each track will at least make an honest attempt to be more tantalizing than the one before it. The contrast is often achieved in terms of ratios between music that sounds very primitive or unorthodox and the obvious polished veneer of a professional combo whipping up a crowd up at a wedding. The album opens with Indian bagpipe music played on the mutli, kind of a cross between an oboe and a bagpipe. It is complex instrumental music with a kamyacha fiddler doubling up on difficult unison passages, the rhythm a romping thing. The Turkish mey solo that follows is something else entirely, the instrument barely seeming to be an instrument at all, more like a large insect that crawled out of someone's nose. The Malaysian surnai has the soprano saxophone sound that lures many listeners into this type of music, except much more pinched, with trills that sound like a weirdo noodling with an oscillator. Another incredible track was recorded in Iran in the mid-'70s, and features the karna, an instrument that bears the same relationship to the trumpet as the sawed-off shotgun does to a normal pump model. This is a great performance, the accompanying drummer almost stealing the show from the pungent, humorously muttering horn.

The variations on reed instrument and bagpipe construction continue in an inspired manner as the listener drifts across Algeria, heads down into the United Arab Emirates, backs way over to the Italian province of Isernia, makes a return trip to India, and then winds up in Morocco for dance music played on the single-reed hornpipe called a zamr, accompanied briskly by drums and handclapping. The Italian gents play bagpipes called zampogna and come up with a madly spirited little melody that will have listeners believing their turntables have taken off on a higher speed. There is also music from Sumatra that is used to call the spirits, and chances are good that their ability to hear earthly sounds is upped when the miniature, extremely high-pitched sarune is involved. An Algerian wedding procession is the place for a marvelous set of musical interchanges between a shawm soloist and a set of percussionists including a fat kettledrum, while a pastoral hillside is smoothly evoked by the pair of shepherds' songs from Syria, even though Mahmoud Ali makes his clarinet sound like Jimi Hendrix. Each instrument featured in this collection pierces the psyche in its own way, making an impression that will make one want to return to these performances again and again.

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