Ostâd Elâhi

Cascade: Art of Oriental Tanbur Lute [2002]

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Don't let the lack of sparkling fidelity on this 1970 recording fool you -- there's a genius at work here. Ostad Elahi was the master of the five-string, lute-like tanbur -- in fact, his instrument was the first of its kind, an adaptation of others. But he'd studied the Persian classical tradition, and was perfectly at home within it as well as outside it, which is what makes "Qatâr Suite" so masterful. Although one long track, it's a merging of many different pieces in the contemplative Qatâr mode. Elahi's technique is what astounds; instead of plucking the lute, he uses all ten fingers to create a sweep that's almost orchestral at times, while still offering a fluency of fingering that's staggering. Unusually for Elahi, this suite contains no improvised music, his favorite form, but takes the initial theme and develops it. For concentrated listening, it's definitely not easy, but it's remarkably rewarding, with complex harmonic effects and a bass string that offers a counterpoint to the melodies. This, indeed, is the art of the tanbur.

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