09 September 2010
I get sent a wild range of music.
I am sure the same could be said for almost any progressive music reviewer, whether it’s independent (like me!) or someone who writes for a publication, web based or dead tree based. I think in a lot of cases prog rock reviewers are seen as a catch all for music…since the genre really is so amorphous and non-defined, all I think it takes is someone saying ‘Oh, we used a tron patch for 5 seconds…it’s prog!’ for a copy to be shifted out to one or all of us.
I don’t mind, really…I get to hear so much different music as a result. If it weren’t for that attitude, I’d never have discovered some of the post rock I’ve heard. Sure, I’ve gotten a few CDs that I’d cheerfully turn into coasters from time to time, but in general, I appreciate musicians who do something different. It may not be prog per se, but I exult in the adventurous nature of what they do, and if it’s done with honesty and integrity, I’ll probably enjoy it.
A few weeks back (yes, this all will make sense, so just ride it out, ok?) I contacted the PR guy handling the new Steve Morse album Angelfire (which I reviewed, and you can find the review here if you haven’t read it yet: http://billsprogblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/cd-review-steve-morsesarah-spencer.html) to see if I could cover it. He agreed, and then said ‘I also have another CD I want you to check out as well.’ I asked what it was he was sending me, but never got an answer. Honestly, this intrigued me…I wondered if it was some major album from someone that I’d not known was coming out, and it was supposed to be some sort of surprise.
I was wrong on that count.
When I got the packet, I tore it open, saw the Angelfire CD, and then saw…a flamenco album.
Yeah, I’ll let that sink in for a few moments. Let me know when you’re ready.
OK, all ready now?
So…yeah. Flamenco album. Titled, of all things, Angels of Persepolis. By an artist named Mehran. Now, if you were to ask me my line of thought when I saw this, it honestly would have gone like this.
Flamenco guitar? Lovely.
Mehran…does not sound like a flamenco guitar player’s name.
Angels of Persepolis…definitely does not sound like a flamenco guitar album title.
(flips over digipak, sees list of musicians)
Electronic drums? Djimbe? Doumbek? On a flamenco album?
This could be…interesting.
And frankly, interesting it is. But we’ll get to that.
We’ll start with his bio, which I am borrowing from the website for the album (a link is at the bottom as usual): “Mehran is an Iranian born Flamenco guitarist who has studied extensively in Spain with great Maestros of Flamenco guitar including Amir Haddad (Radio Tarifa), Antonio El Muneco, Juan De Madrid, and Rafael Mendiola and in the states with Pedro Cortes, Ted Rachine, Arturo Martinez, Jacco Muller, Jose Panequito, Michael Hauser and Narada Recording artist, Chuscales.” On Angels he is joined by an orchestra’s worth of additional musicians, and all I can say up front is this: if you are expecting an album of Spanish sounding instrumentals and moods, not only will you be sorely disappointed, you’re probably visiting the wrong website entirely. Angels of Persepolis is a flamenco album the same way Opeth’s Damnation is a death metal album…the musicians may be the same, but the album definitely is not.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some wonderful elements of traditional flamenco playing throughout. Album opener ‘Pasargad (Rumba)’ is perhaps the strongest example of this. Even around some Winston Churchill samples and wonderful eastern percussion, Mehran’s playing takes flamenco as a base and rockets it in directions I’d not necessarily imagined. Bent notes, crystal clear fingerpicking, a wonderful, bright and lyrical tone, his playing is impressive and very enjoyable indeed. I’m not 100% convinced on the electronic drumming, as it really does stand out from the rest of the mix more than I’d like, but when the drums are out of the mix, and ethnic percussion comes into play, it’s gorgeous. Wonderful trumpet from Victor Garcia just completes the scene.
‘The Silent Garden of Divinity (Sevillanas)’ is a more restrained, fragile piece, with samples again leading into the music proper. Mehran’s picking is beautiful, slow and sorrowful, with strings adding so much depth to the mood. This is a much more open sounding piece, with plenty of breath and room presence, vibrating warmly and mournfully from the speakers in shades of aged gold and brown. It’s definitely an autumnal sounding piece, one that shows the breadth of styles Mehran was reaching for with this release. The piece has a hugely classical feel to it, and it is so gentle on the ears without being cloyingly, falsely sweet.
Having said this so far, I am not much of a fan of ‘Korean Soup.’ It’s a pleasant sounding piece, but I hate to say that it sounds like the kind of thing I was subjected to for 2 hours at a clip as a 5 year old standing on the end of a shopping cart at Laneco in Clinton NJ as my family did their grocery shopping. It’s just…too Muzak-sounding for my tastes. Sorry. A skipper for me.
The title track does a wonderful job of redeeming things for me. The opening is space-like, ambient, with the chimes of a Big Ben style clock in the distance. Violin and guitar dance around each other like twin wisping pillars of smoke soaring from fires at night. All too brief at just under 3 minutes, I rather wish the previous 8-minute composition could have changed timings with this one. It leads into the dark, sample heavy ‘Ahriman,’ (in my continuing need to share things with you and give you insights, it’s my dute to pass along that Ahriman is the hypostasis of the "destructive spirit" in Middle Persian) with hand percussion and deep wind noises creating an almost frightening soundscape before Mehran comes in with some nimble fretboard work. Handclaps punctuate along with deep percussive accents, and I nod my head in time with the beat as Mehran shows some wonderful skips and jumps on his guitar.
‘Yare Dabistani’ is the sole track on this album not written by Mehran. Composed by Mansour Tehrani and rearranged by Mehran, it’s a traditional protest song, and is beautifully sorrowful. Violin weeps, guitar notes chime out mournfully, piano bubbles underneath a thick melange of percussion and drums. I read a quote from Mehran in which he said the following about flamenco guitar…“It sometimes is so intense that it wants to rip your heart out and sometimes so gentle like a butterfly landing on your arm.” Listening to ‘Yare Dabistani,’ I think we have an example where it’s both. It’s so gentle, yet the intensity of the music is such that my heart weeps listening to it.
Angels of Persepolis closes out with perhaps its most unusual track, ‘Rooftop Poem.’ A series of samples of failed communication leads into what sounds like a field recording of a young girl speaking, the sounds of yelling in the background, perhaps some kind of demonstration or something even further on. It’s difficult to say due to the rougher quality of the recording, but considering Mehran’s attempts to express his pride for the men and women who rose up silently to protest the government of the nation, it’d not be a surprise. Honestly, the track disturbs me, but I think in this case it’s OK to feel disturbed. It’s OK to feel that way, because it means that I don’t want things to remain like that. And that’s enough politicking from me in this blog post.
Angels of Persepolis is not a traditional flamenco album, and I’m glad I got the chance to check it out. Mehran has a rock musician’s sensibilities about mood and the use of electronics and samples to help in crafting his musical pictures. Angels of Persepolis is an interesting album indeed. Will it be your particular cup of Earl Grey? Maybe not…but a stop at the sites below may help you to make that decision a little easier. Do check it out…widen your horizons a little!
The Silent Garden of Divinity
Angels of Persepolis
The Oblong Box
The Little Song of Hope
Mehran, Flamenco Guitar
Greg Wieser-Pratt, Acoustic Guitar
Rocky Yera, Flute
Victor Garcia, Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Juliano Milo, Accordion
Greg Wyser-Pratte, Acoustic Drums
Jamey Hannon, Electronic drums
Kassandra Kocoshis, Percussionist
Omar Al Musfi, Doumbek, Daf
Timo Lozano, Cajon
Alyson Berger, Cello
Manoela Wunder, Violin
Aram Jalili, Piano
Maya Tatiana, Palmas
Arturo Martinez, Palmas
Timo Lozano, Palmas
Louis Marini, Electric and upright bass