Various Artists

From Samarkand to Bukhara: A Musical Journey Through Uzbekistan

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Sometimes the music of Central Asia gets lost in the shuffle, partly due to the remoteness of the place and even more because of decades of Soviet domination. This collection should help bring this region's gorgeous music the attention it deserves. Uzbeki music, judging by this album, is as vital as folk music and as reflective as classical. If you're familiar with the music of Kurdistan or Baluchistan, you will already have a general idea of the music: solo voice or small chorus, modal structure (i.e. no harmony), lots of lutes (more piercing than sweet), some flutes, reeds, fiddle, and hand drums. The rhythms are complex and obviously influenced by the hoofbeat cadences of Mongolia. There's a lot of ornament, and textures and timbres are frequently enriched by the judicious doubling of voices, as when the plaintive fiddle parallels the almost operatic soprano of Matlubeh in "Gayla Gach."

The ensembles range from a cappella in the hushed, yet intense devotion of the Women's Ensemble of Fergana singing a religious song, to the brilliant instrumental mastery of Turgun Alimatov playing a profound and forbidding piece for lute in the Arabic style, to the Maqam Ensemble of Khorezm which is practically an orchestra. Since Uzbekistan is one of the crossroads of the world, its music is influenced by everything from Chinese and Islamic music to Jewish and Western classical traditions, yet it all coheres as a single vibrant cultural style. This accessible and beautiful collection is not to be missed by the explorer of international musical forms.