Challenging and beautiful might seem like contradictory descriptions, but in the case of Safa, they're perfectly apt. With a strong root in Persian music, the trio explores improvisation with clarinet, percussion, tar, and setar, and takes its sound to some very interesting places. What's particularly apparent isn't just the fact that they can all play with wonderful invention, but that they listen, too, and depend on each other to focus a piece of music like the fairly epic "Whisper of Love," where answering phrases lift the mood higher and higher. Putting the music into a pigeonhole isn't easy. Amir Koushkani's Iranian roots might be the heart of it all, and is the basis of three of the tracks here (another, "Nihawend Lunga," is a traditional Turkish piece). The other seven come from the bandmembers and aren't world music, jazz, or anything readily definable. They can work happily in duos -- as on "Aurora," "Shadi," and "Epilogue" -- or together, such as with "Navae." And certainly they set out their stall on the opener, the demanding "Chahar Mezrab," where virtuosity is the key, especially Houle's ecstatic clarinet solo. All this record proves is that when you're making intelligent music, there's nothing wrong in demanding a lot from the listener. And, for audiophiles, this is a Super Audio CD -- if you have the right equipment, you'll supposedly get spectacular sound -- but it plays perfectly well on normal systems, too.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson