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“Hawniyaz” – Kayhan Kalhour, kamancheh/Aynur, chant/Cemil Qoçgirî, tenbûr/Salman Gambarov, p. – HM

Just sit back and enjoy this wonderful ensemble and learn something.

“Hawniyaz” – Kayhan Kalhour, kamancheh/Aynur, chant/Cemil Qoçgirî, tenbûr/Salman Gambarov, p. – Harmonia mundi, 57:31 [Distr. by PIAS] (8/12/16), ***1/2:

Upon first seeing this album I honestly had no idea what I was in for. I have heard very little of contemporary classical music come out of the Middle East (an example of which this is not) and I have a rather limited appreciation for traditional ethnic music from any culture (an example of which this is not.) So the great surprise here is that this album is almost indescribable and quite good. It is sort of an ‘easy listening/world music/ethnic jazz’ experience and makes for very interesting and relaxing listening.

The first thing I had to learn was what these instruments are that this amazing ensemble uses. Thanks to very good booklet notes, I learned that a kamancheh is a “spike fiddle” played with a bow and/or plucking and strumming and is indigenous to fifteenth century Iran and is played to this day throughout Armenia, Azerbaijan and the larger region. A tenbûr is a kind of long-necked lute also originally from the Kurdish territories and still played much of eastern Turkey and Iran.

The album title, “Hawniyaz”, is also the name of this ensemble which is rounded out with pianist Salman Gambarov; who plays some very softly jazzy chords and improv moments against the more traditional whole, and by the singer Aynur, possessed with both good looks and a lovely voice.

There are but five rather extended cuts to this album, each of which seems to be almost an improv session around some traditional material. The music is attractive throughout and what kept me connected, for my tastes, was that each song, with titles such as “My Beauty” and “Ehmedo – I’m desperate”, hardly gets ‘too’ fast and rhythmic nor ‘too’ loud and invasive. While the moods seem to run from sad and plaintive to reflective and introspective, the overall feel is relaxed and quite beautiful throughout.

If you are like me and would not ordinarily gravitate to the straight-up “world music” bin this is a completely pleasant surprise. Hawniyaz, in Kurdish, apparently means something like “Everybody needs everybody, each of us is there for there for the other.” Their music certainly cuts across all listening preferences to somewhat symbolize this sentiment. Recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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