Various Artists

Orion Cup Capital 2000

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In the new Russia, as well as the old Soviet Union, there seems to be continuing recording documentation of the evolving traditional musics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Ashkabad. When these areas were part of the all-encompassing USSR, the state-run Melodica label pressed a great deal of ethnic music, much of which is difficult to read as well as find for the Westerner, since only the Cyrillic text was used on the liner notes. As part of the Russian freeing-up of private enterprise in the new millennium, institutes such as the Moscow performance space Dom have been able to start labels, with text in English as well. While regulation of some sort seems to have required the titles on the Dom label to carry a message that they are "not for sale," the label will be happy to sell you a copy, as they say in Georgia, both U.S. and former USSR. It would be a bargain. The listener gets performances by four different groups, although one of them is slighted with only a bit less than six minutes of playing time. Portions of the other artists are more generous. The final performer in the program, the Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan, also has an entire disc out of his own music available on the same label, but is heard here as part of a more expanded a group, including three players on the duduk. Although the name of the latter instruments sounds like some kind of stink bomb that failed to go off, it is actually a traditional wooden double-reed instrument with a wonderfully evocative sound, full of deep, rich, appetizing tone. With three of these going on stage, the fan of the double reed sound is bound to be happy. Instruments such as the stringed tar, the fiddle-like kemancha, and the nagara drum are part of the Alim Qasimov ensemble, but the major focus is on the wonderful voice of the leader, coming from a rich background of performance in which extended vocal improvisations based on classical texts has the cultural import of a symphony. The Uzbek vocalist Munajat Yulchieva also comes from a culture that relishes a good vocal workout, but goes to even more extremes, coaxing extended and unusual sounds from the throat and vocal chords. "Taronai Baet" is the one track featuring this artist and her backing group, and it clearly establishes their immense talents, the question of why so little playing time was passed their way ringing in the background of the entire disc like a drone coming out the back of someone's throat. The Ashkabad wedding music performed by the Ashkhabad Ensemble features rollicking rhythms and terrific interplay between clarinet, violin, and accordion. The fact that these players are playing instruments with recognizable English names indicates a stronger European influence on their music, which is true. Programming is superb, the four different acts complementing each other well, resulting in a sequence that flows and should keep the serious listener well engaged.

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