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Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan

PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:20 pm
by Gordon Neill
A 5-star review by Michael Church in the Scotsman prompted me to buy this CD. I know nothing about the music of Azerbaijan, I’m not big on religious music. But I felt that these were pretty good reasons for giving it a go. I’m pretty open-minded about music. It’s why I’m here. Stuff can wander in to my head, it can settle there quite happily, it can wander out again. I don’t have much control over it. It either agrees with me, or it doesn’t. But I always look forward to trying new music. And this turned out to be just that. Trying.

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Despite the sumptuous packaging and the accompanying DVD, the rot set in even before I listened to the music. I made a brave attempt to read the liner notes. These aren’t sleeve notes, these are more like someone’s University dissertation. Littered with words such as titular, diaspora, filigree, indigenous, antiphony, polyphony, and His Highness the Aga Khan. We get a series of essays, earnestly explaining the history of the region, blow by blow accounts of each track (helpfully pointing out the tetrachords, antiphony, and modulations – just so grunts like me don’t miss out on all the fun), and an instrument glossary (with the inevitable pictures of the traditional flutes and traditional banjos). The image of butterflies pinned under a museum display case sprang to mind. Clearly, this isn’t music to be enjoyed by plebs like me. You have to be very clever to like this stuff. Or need to get out more often. Possibly, it’s best listening to it whilst perched on the chaise lounge, while sipping mint tea from a porcelain cup. With your little pinkie sticking out. I wouldn’t know. I just hunkered down on the floor and listened, with my ears sticking out, a bit like Pavlov’s dog waiting on a tasty treat.

My response wasn’t good. Each mournful, dreary track sounds much the same as all the other mournful, dreary tracks. They say that the Devil has all the best tunes. I certainly couldn’t imagine him humming any of these ones. I found myself counting down the seconds left on each track, only to feel cheated as it flowed seamlessly into the next. Eventually, I just gave up trying to resist the pain and skipped to the last track. At only 2 minutes and fifty two seconds, this is the shortest track on the album. Even more hopefully, the sleeve notes promised me that it was written as part of film score. Surely this would get my toes-a-tapping? Nope. Just the same old dirge, only shorter. But I was grateful at least for this small mercy.

I appreciate that there’s a fair bit of bile in this review. But what do you expect when someone needlessly gets between a Scotsman and his £12.99? I appreciate that I may not be the target audience for this stuff. But I’m not sure who is. Certainly not the general public who might be tempted to try this world music lark for a bit of a change. As far as I’m concerned, this is the kind of stuff (‘stuff?’ I can hear people squealing, ‘stuff?’) that gives world music a bad name. This is how it can end up in the same box as sandals, beards and wine-making. I’m quite open to the possibility that someone somewhere thinks this is great music (Alim’s mum, perhaps). But how on earth does this end up getting a 5-star review in a newspaper aimed at a mass audience? Get real.

For those of you who get upset with star ratings, no worries. I’m not giving it any.

Re: Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 1:02 pm
by joel
Gordon Neill wrote:I’m quite open to the possibility that someone somewhere thinks this is great music. But how on earth does this end up getting a 5-star review in a newspaper aimed at a mass audience? Get real.
Well, I really like this music and the series it is part of.
I have the first three in the series and plan to get this as well as vols 4 & 5 as soon as I can.
Then again as a big fan of traditional spiritual music, from Perotin and the Ars Nova to sufi ecstatic music, I would expect to like this.
Top hint: vol 1 is especially superb. A dark, searching jews harp drone direct from the campfires of the Golden Horde...
But for those who would like to investigate for themselves, individual tracks can be purchased for 99c and the liner notes downloaded for free here:
http://www.smithsonianglobalsound.org/c ... temid=3186
The entire series here:
http://www.smithsonianglobalsound.org/s ... e='phrase'
Joel - no beard, no home-made wine and sandals only for physio.

a challenge!

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 1:30 pm
by Gordon Neill
Well, I am willing to try to be a better person. And I don't like shutting down an entire range of music based on (to me) a dramatically over-enthusiastic review. So I'm willing to risk 99 cents on a track. Joel, can you recommend one track (perhaps from volume 1?) that would grab my ears and convert me?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 2:50 pm
by garth cartwright
While I don't know this CD I can concur that Azerbijani tradiitonal music is tough stuff. I'm fascinated by Central Asian music and tend to like it unvarnished - thus I'm with Nigel on the new Real World album by the Uzbek cutie is overproduced rubbish - but the few Azerbijani albums I own rarely get a spin. That said, the first time i heard Robert Johnson as a teen i was horrified, thought I'd wasted my money etc. Now I play him every week and marvel at the beauty of his music. So be patient Gordon and u may find there are strange treasures in the CD - and M Church is a pretty thorough critic, generally avoiding the more hyped, overproduced stuff.

What? WHAT DID HE SAY?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:02 pm
by Gordon Neill
Well, I am a Scotsman and I am determined to get my money's worth out of my £12.99 investment. I will come back to this CD and give it another chance. But there does come a point when fun becomes plain hard work. I'd much rather spend some quality time with a Uzbek cutie, and maybe even listen to her CD.

Looking back, I suppose the bile of my hatchet job sprung from my annoyance at Michael Church's review. I wouldn't have minded so much if there had been a health warning attached along the lines of 'only for aficionados'. But a 5-star review in a mass market newspaper is misleading.

I know what you mean about Robert Johnson, though. I first heard his stuff about 30 years ago and thought they were historically important but almost unlistenable. Unfortunately....

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:04 pm
by joel
Gordon,
Vol1, Track 3; Küidüm chok (I Burn, I Smoulder like Charcoal)
It is a bit short, and you may have to listen a couple of times, and it might even be good to read the liner notes to understand what it's about. Or not.
Friends who like "avant garde" and "industrial" music also seem to like like this.
Volume 6 strikes me as being much more trovere or Istanpitta-like. This is music of the kind you find a lot of on Alpha records;
http://www.fugalibera.com/readmorecd.ph ... abel=alpha
http://www.fugalibera.com/readmorecd.ph ... abel=alpha
(Full length clips for each album are worth listening to IMHO)
FWIW I think you are already a very good person and don't need improving.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:19 pm
by Gordon Neill
OK, thanks Joel. I will go and listen to 'I Burn, I Smoulder like Charcoal'. Short is good, as far as I'm concerned.

Your mention of a couple of Alpha released is quite spooky. I've just blundered into a couple of their releases, both by L'Arpeggiata. They are truly wonderful. Baroque but, to my ears, with some common ground with world, folk, roots music. I recently did a review of the Stefano Landi CD, I'll get round to singing the praises of 'All'Improvviso'.

I hope you're on the mend, Joel. Your last comment suggests you might still have a touch of concussion.

Tengir-Too

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:20 pm
by Con Murphy
joel wrote:Top hint: vol 1 is especially superb. A dark, searching jews harp drone direct from the campfires of the Golden Horde...

and

Gordon,
Vol1, Track 3; Küidüm chok (I Burn, I Smoulder like Charcoal)
It is a bit short, and you may have to listen a couple of times, and it might even be good to read the liner notes to understand what it's about. Or not.
Friends who like "avant garde" and "industrial" music also seem to like like this.


I can pretty much guarantee that Gordon would like Volume One, which actually covers the music of Kyrgyzstan. The artists recorded - going under the name Tengir-Too - were featured on Charlie's world service programme last year, and were also featured in fRoots. It's far more accessible than the Azerbaijani volume, very deftly arranged by urbanised purveyors of what was traditionally solo nomadic music from the mountain range after which they are named.

If you still have a copy of my second CD Circle mix, Gordon, you'll be able to check out Küidüm Chok for free!

Edit: In fact, I think I opted for Gul instead in the end.

A Fool Such As I

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 3:23 pm
by Gordon Neill
Joel claimed:

FWIW I think you are already a very good person and don't need improving.


But Con swiftly pointed out:

If you still have a copy of my second CD Circle mix, Gordon, you'll be able to check out Küidüm Chok for free!

Sigh

PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 4:01 pm
by Gordon Neill
Ah! This is more like it! I've been on the Smithsonian website and listened to a couple of tracks from Volume 1 (Küidüm Chok, and Gul). Both are far more lively and accessible than anything on the Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan volume. I need to hear more of this stuff. Right. More money needed.....

Gordon the Good

PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2007 2:29 am
by joel
Gordon Neill wrote:Your mention of a couple of Alpha released is quite spooky. I've just blundered into a couple of their releases, both by L'Arpeggiata. They are truly wonderful. Baroque but, to my ears, with some common ground with world, folk, roots music. I recently did a review of the Stefano Landi CD, I'll get round to singing the praises of 'All'Improvviso'.

Ah, Christina Pluhar. Yes, she's brilliant. Have you listened to the Tarantello album? I still have somewhat mixed feelings about her last album which was released on Naive. This is probably because of the presence of the Kings Singers... OTOH Pepe Habichuela also turns out for some South American Baroque Flamenco fusion.
I love her approach to music making.

IMHO,also worth checking out though rather different, is Vincent Dumestre and Le Poeme Harmonique. He is less overtly jazzy. but still plays with energy and freedom and is a superb arranger. My two picks of his are Nova Metamorfosi, possibly the most beautiful music I have ever heard, and and Plaisir d'amour - Chansons & romances de la France d'autrefois. Anyway, there is plenty of great music on Alpha.

Glad you liked volume 1. Volume 6 still looks very interesting to me, but will wait until I'm in a position to buy it and listen to it at home before coming to a conclusion.

Baroque and Roll

PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2007 9:37 am
by Gordon Neill
Hi Joel, I'm steadily working my way through Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata's back catalogue. the Tarantello should arrive any day now. Con Murphy has also mentioned Le Poeme Harmonique, so it must be good if it gets a boost from two Forumistas.

I've also started exploring the various CDs issued by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI. Some similaries with L'Arpeggiata's willingness to improvise, but not quite so 'jazzy'. Still terrific though.

alim qasimov

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2007 11:29 am
by Peter Culshaw
Article by me, below, on the aforementioned alim qasimov in the Daily telegraph - in 2000, who I thought at the time was terrific if musically maybe something of an acquired taste- also an innovator within his genre

I guess he didnt "set the world alight" as the headline's hype suggested

admittedly I dont actually listen to it on CD much, but I'd definitely see him see him live again

Michael Church, like myself also writes about classical music - ive noticed classical fans are more susceptible to this kind of thing, as with Indian classical etc -

Tenghir-too and other central asian stuff thats more rhythmic are groovier for sure

A voice from the east to set the world alight
(Filed: 13/05/2000)


With his sublime renditions of Azerbaijan's classical music, Alim Qasimov is destined to become one of the world's great performers. On the eve of the singer's first British tour, Peter Culshaw travels to the old Soviet state to drink vodka and to chart his emergence


'FIZULI!" Alim Qasimov shouts the word and seems to have taken leave of his senses as he mimes a martial art move in the street. I'm already distracted by the startling sight of young Baku beauties in mini-skirts and bare midriffs on their evening passagiata around leafy Fountain Square (we are, after all, in a nominally Islamic country, just over the border from Iran). It turns out that we have run into Fizuli Moussayev, currently the world champion at karate. "Fizuli! Champion karate!" Qasimov does the introductions. "Mr Peter! Journalist!" He pauses. "Champion also!"


Azerbaijan has not had many champions of late. Gary Kasparov, whose chess school is down the road from my hotel, is one. But his mother is Armenian, and that makes him suspicious to Azeris, who have simmering territorial disputes with the Armenians. The Azeris haven't exactly been setting the world alight musically, but in Alim Qasimov they have a world-class singer.

He won last year's Unesco music award, a prize previously given to global heavyweight talents such as Ravi Shankar, György Ligeti, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Yehudi Menuhin. Critics in Europe are beginning to hyperventilate ("you are truly and deeply touched by a concert about as often as you fall in love," said the man from Stuttgarter Zeitung).

Qasimov's recent album, Love's Deep Ocean, on the respected German label Network, is a gloriously passionate, inventive and wonderful piece of work. I saw him at the increasingly influential Fes Festival of World Sacred Music a couple of years ago, when he stole the show. A British tour later this month is his first here, and one the Azeris are watching with interest.

Alim sings a classical genre called mugam, using traditional instruments such as the tar (a kind of lute) and kemencheh (a spiked fiddle), with assorted woodwind and percussion. Although related to Arabic and Persian music, it is idiosyncratically Azeri.

Perhaps because mugam has been largely ignored by the west for the past 1,300 years, the Azeris were fascinated that a journalist from a major British paper had travelled to their capital, Baku, to investigate their national music. Having only achieved independence from Russia a decade ago, assertions of national identity are prized. When I asked about the fragile peace with Armenia, a jazz musician, Vagif Sadikhov, told me, "If the Armenians say they have invented mugam, then the hostilities will recommence."

To my bemusement, a press conference was announced on my first day there, and I found myself on Super TV, AZ TV and other local stations being grilled about my limited knowledge of Azeri music. My 15 minutes had their benefit, though, as carpetmakers and other artisans offered me rock-bottom prices for their wares. "Friend of our music! For you, very good price."

When I visited the farm where Qasimov grew up, a sheep was slaughtered in my honour before being disembowelled in front of meand turned into kebabs, which we washed down with vodka. An amusing game followed in which I was passed morsels and asked to guess which bit of the mutton it was.

I met Qasimov's parents, short, sturdy, brimming with life and in their seventies. They told me that when Alim was born there were no cars, television or gramophone. The local radio played Russian and traditional Azeri music so their son, now 42, missed out on the Beatles and other Sixties pop.

Alim's father, Hamza, worked on one of the Soviet-style collective farms. They were never hungry, but the roof leaked and they couldn't afford enough clothes or musical instruments.

Makeshift instruments were fashioned out of kitchen pots and pans, with telephone wires as strings. Hamza himself has a fair voice, and was using it with gusto after numerous vodka toasts to British-Azeri relations, assorted relatives, music, love, and humanity in general (with the possible exception of Armenians).

Alim's talent was evident early on, and when a teenager he would sing at weddings. He eloped with his girlfriend, now his charming wife Tamila, after her relatively rich parents objected, and took a series of jobs in oil plants and as a chauffeur.

But at 21, Qasimov decided he didn't like getting up in the morning and was wasting his talent, so he enrolled with not one but three mugam teachers, which kept him busy from eight in the morning until late at night.

As a performer he experienced the repressive nature of the Soviet regime. In his late twenties, he was sent to Washington DC to take part in the Soviet Arts Festival. The KGB officer in charge of the delegation, there to stop defections, told Qasimov to say he came from Moscow. After all, the festival was supposed to be for the glory of the Soviet system. Also, the Russians had always been suspicious of the Azeris and their hot-blooded southern tendencies, especially when it came to music. It was difficult to control the more bohemian elements on the edges of the empire, so there was little they could do when Baku became a centre of jazz - which the Russians frowned on as bourgeois and decadent - in the Thirties.

Qasimov is, in a sense, part of that improvising tradition, playing with the accepted structures of mugam, and pushing it in new directions. More conservative mugam singers, who stick to the written notes, feel that Qasimov is breaking too many rules of the genre. While he says he has no plans for any electronic remixes (he is often compared to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who became globally famous partly through a Massive Attack remix of Musst Musst, which ended up as a Coca-Cola advert), he is making other experiments.

While I was there he was rehearsing an opera written by the Jewish composer Piris Eliyahu, which mixes different oriental styles. The story, Leyli Madjnun, is an eastern version of Romeo and Juliet. The lead roles are taken by Qasimov and his daughter Ferghana, who has inherited the Qasimov vocal genes and will be singing with him in Britain. Seeing them perform love songs for each other was very tender, albeit with distinct Freudian overtones.

His justification for straying from the straight and narrow of mugam is that he is responding to and reinventing the spirit rather than the letter of the genre. At his charming but modest flat in downtown Baku, he dug out a tape of a mugam singer, Mashadi Fazzaliyev, recorded nearly a century ago. The sheer passion of the music broke through the veils of time and poor recording quality. Qasimov said one day he hoped to emulate the power of the music we heard. In a sense, the Soviet occupation caused a break in a tradition that he is intuitively reconnected to. Qasimov, you feel, is destined to become one of the world's great singers.

We visited his dacha outside Baku, with peacocks, swimming pool and stables. While there we watched a video of a glitzy Hollywood charity do, featuring assorted singers. Qasimov looked impassively at the parade of divas - Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey. But then Aretha Franklin came on. His face lit up. Later, he asked me whether on his visit to London he could get to see someone like Aretha, who was a "real singer".

The most unforgettable moment was to come. We drove out to a natural Azeri wonder - a fire that has burnt for thousands of years through natural gas, the element that is propelling the current economic surge. A hundred years ago, Azerbaijan produced the majority of the world's oil. Now the boom, albeit faltering, is back on, and is the reason the country does not have the desperation of many of the other ex-Soviet satellites.

The eternal flames danced on a hill, an amazing sight. One could understand how the fire-worshipping religion of Zoroastrianism had its origin in Azerbaijan. The type of Islam around these parts always had pagan elements. Qasimov moved around the flames and began to sing, songs of love gone wrong, songs to nature and the divinity, a voice at once masculine and feminine, disturbing and inspiring with its intensity.

A sinner confesses

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2007 11:58 am
by Gordon Neill
Alim Qasimov does come across as an interesting and engaging character in that article. I've been meaning to say it for a while but, spurred on by reading Peter's piece, I think I was a bit (!) harsh in my initial review. As Charlie might say, I wince when I look at what I said. I'm still pissed off at the glowing 5-star review which prompted me to buy the CD in the first place. But that's not Alim Qasimov's fault. Yes, it is an acquired taste, and I can't say that I've acquired it yet. But there are a couple of tracks that I quite like now. There's hope for me yet.....

alim q

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2007 10:14 pm
by Peter Culshaw
I was lucky in that I saw him live first - without distractions, in Fes which was a perfect setting

Its certainly not easy listening though- even for Azeris

Not sure I'd care to actually sit down and listen to the CDs though

Notice Michael Church gives the album 4 stars in Songlines - its obviously lost one on the way - maybe after reading this thread...