Many of the Kronos Quartet's biggest-selling albums, going back to 1991's Five Tango Sensations, have drawn on vernacular traditions from outside the European-American sphere, and some, such as Caravan (2000), have drawn from the music of the Near East. Placeless, though, is a standout among the bunch, for several reasons. The album contains settings of Persian poetry by Rumi and various other classical and modern writers in the same ecstatic vein, hovering between religious mysticism and sensuality. The title comes from a poem by Rumi, who famously proclaimed, "I am not from the world, not from beyond. My place is placelessness. My trace is tracelessness." The album's most immediately attractive feature is the singing of Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat, who has performed widely outside Iran but is forbidden by the country's Islamic government from appearing at home. (She still lives in Tehran and teaches privately.) Vahdat also wrote the melodic settings, and these are fascinating. They are not classical improvisations in the Persian system of modes but small chunks that fit the devotional exclamations of the poetry beautifully. And they approach the poetry in various ways. Sample Fate Astray, with its squarish, almost Western-style melody, and you'll also encounter another strong point: the variety of the arrangements. These draw on the work of various figures, both Persian and Western (this one is by Jacob Garchik), and they call for a wide range of textures from the Kronos Quartet, from evocations of plucked-string accompaniment to traditional string quartet textures, and even Middle Eastern percussion. The melodies are bewitching in themselves, and they seem to pass through prisms and come out in different shades. Highly recommended; one of the Kronos' strongest releases in recent years.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim