Angels Of Persepolis
Mehran's Angels Of Persepolis was released in the US this February. While the idea of an Iranian flamenco guitarist may strike some as somewhat unusual, there is really nothing quite so strange about this. Aren't there (plenty of!) Western musicians playing all manner of Eastern instruments and/or styles of Eastern music? So why should it strike anybody as somehow strange to come across an Iranian musician playing flamenco guitar? Just get rid of such truly strange ideas and any baggage of pre-conceived ideas.
Also, of course, the musical culture of Iran and the Spanish gypsies, among whom flamenco developed in the nineteenth century, isn't really all that far apart anyway. For example, many of the modal scales - if not the actual modes - in use among the Spanish gypsy musicians are also commonly found in Persian music and the wider Central Asian area.
Thus, a certain affinity pre-exists between the two musical cultures. As a result, the fusion of flamenco and Persian music that Mehran creates on Angels Of Persepolis is as smooth as silk and a natural, organic one.
Using essentially Latin forms such as rumba, bossa, fandango, bolero and others as the basis of his excellent compositions, Mehran seamlessly super-imposes them with Persian melodies. The results are delightful and enchanting. The final two tracks of the album deviate somewhat from this formula. The first of these is a traditional Persian protest song by Mansour Tehrani, Yare Dabestani, that fits well into this album. The second, the closer of the album, Rooftop Poem, is actually an excerpt from actual footage in Iran (no further details available) of a woman reciting a protest poem. Sadly, this latter does not fit in well and could almost spoil what is otherwise an excellent and exciting album. Also, one could have done without the sometimes overly long, somewhat experimental intros to the Mehran originals. They don't really add anything to the music or mood and tend to be just distracting, sometimes even irritating.
The problem with Angels Of Persepolis is perhaps that Mehran has a political agenda and hopes to convey a political message through his music. This rarely works, if ever, and greater minds have realised in the past that music is not the messenger, but that music is the message.
Mehran's outstanding flamenco guitar is complemented by a large number of other musicians and instruments on Angels Of Persepolis, although not all playing at once on the same track. Often, these are given generous scope for improvisations of their own. While it really would not be possible to deal with each of these accompanists in turn and it would likewise be unfair to single out any of them as they are all excellent, special mention must be made of Mehran's use of the doumbek - a single-headed Persian drum common also throughout Central Asia and parts of the Middle East that is as rivetingly versatile as the Indian tabla, often also spelled as 'dombek' or 'tombek' - on two of the tracks.
On the opener Pasargad, this is played by Syrian virtuoso Omar Al Musfi on what is basically a rumba - the effect is stunning and mesmerising. The doumbek seems like a natural for Latin forms! While the tabla has in recent decades been heard quite frequently in various Latin contexts (Indian tabla virtuoso Trilok Gurtu particularly springs to mind), this is the first time I've encountered the glorious doumbek in a Latin context. It is heard to equal effect if more subtly on Yare Dabestani, here played by Kassandra Kocoshis.
It would be hard to single out a particular favourite on Angels Of Persepolis, though Pasargad, the bossa Korean Soup, and Yare Dabestani perhaps stand out in particular. Without the previously mentioned intros and the closing Rooftop Poem, this could have been a thoroughly consistent album. Even so, Mehran's Angels Of Persepolis is still an outstanding album that the world music label could have been invented for. I feel less comfortable associating it with any kind of jazz sub-genre; improvisation alone doth not jazz make. Mehran is certainly a first-rate flamenco guitarist and a capable improviser - let's see if his travels take him further along the jazz road.
Iranian musicians have made some fine contributions to the "genre" of world music over the years, and Angels Of Persepolis certainly is another excellent example. It is both compelling and enchanting.
Mehran's Angels Of Persepolis should not be missing from any good world music collection, and may have a place in many a world jazz aficionado's collection too. Not forgetting of course general guitar as well as flamenco guitar collections! In the end, what are "genres" anyway - what really counts is that this is good, even excellent, music.
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