Portals of Graceby Azam Ali
Every once in a while, a piece of unexpected beauty comes along. This album by the singer from Vas is just such a thing, mixing Sephardic and Arabic songs with medieval songs from France, Galicia, and beyond. While the idea might sound pretentious, the end product is delicate, heartfelt, and enduring. It could easily have fallen into the new age trap (and the atmospheric keyboard that opens "La Serena" seems to flirt briefly with it), but the playing and singing here are too real and emotional. Nor does it come close to Loreena McKennitt's fake Celtic; this is very carefully researched and thought-out. Ali has a gorgeous voice, the justifiable centerpiece of the record, but partner Greg Ellis offers strong, subtle support and the oud playing of Naser Musa is an eloquent joy throughout. Made for love -- no one is going to call this material wildly commercial -- it's a disc to return to time and again. A joy that manages to be both spiritual and earthy at the same time.
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Performance CreditsAzam Ali Primary Artist,Vocals,Soprano (Vocal),Hammered Dulcimer
Ethan James Hurdy-Gurdy,Nyckelharpa
Shira Kammen Vielle,Rebec
Cameron Stone Cello
Chris Bleth Duduk
Dann Torres Saz
Mark Beasom Bass (Vocal)
Pejman Hadadi Daff,Tombak
Technical CreditsEthan James Arranger
Soeur Marie Keyrouz Arranger
Azam Ali Arranger,Producer,Engineer,Liner Notes
Dan Pinder Engineer
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How can something be earthy and ethereal--a complete contradiction in terms--at the same time? I wouldn¿t have considered it likely either until I heard this CD, but these are the qualities of Azam Ali, both as a vocalist and an arranger. Her voice has a bell-clear purity reminiscent of Anonymous 4, but she easily incorporates the microtonal croons and quavers of her Persian and Indian heritage as well. On this release she interprets primarily Sephardic and medieval European songs to the accompaniment of instruments from east and west alike. Her arrangements are alternatingly lush and spare as the selections demand, but resonate always with a surprising depth of sound and feeling. Guest musicians include her partner from Vas, percussionist Greg Ellis; viellist Shira Kammen; Chris Bleth on duduk; Pejman Hadadi on tombak and def; Naser Musa on oud; and others. As an enjoyable contrast to her vocals, Ali allows the instrumentalists free reign on several numbers of their own. ¿I see the human voice as a reflection of the truest self within us,¿ says Ali, ¿through which we can mirror forth, either through prayer or song, the beauty and Grace of God.¿ Well said, and well sung. This is one of my favorite albums to have come out in the year 2002, and another is somewhat of a companion work: the solo album ¿Kala Rupa: Explorations in Rhythm¿ by Greg Ellis. Ellis and Ali form the duo Vas, and as such have three other releases which also stretch the boundaries of vocal and percussive music. If you enjoy Ali¿s vocal work, you might like that of the groups Sarband, Vox, and Anonymous 4 as well.
This album is a mixture of medieval harmonies and haunting Eastern vocals. It's not a piece of modern 'pop', but a revival of ancient sounds and moods that stirs the soul. Light your fireplace and/or candles and prepare for an incredibly seductive evening with a special someone. It¿s a magical work of musical art.
How lucky was I when I randomly picked up this CD when I was being urged by my companions out of the store? Ali's unique combinations of Arabic music and traditional european lyrics is enough to keep me listening, but her voice can be both warming and haunting. I enjoy this CD tremendously, and recommend it to any fans of Loreena McKennit as a slight "branch out" from her sultry tunes.