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Various Artists
THE SILK ROAD: A MUSICAL CARAVAN
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

By Bruce Carnevale

Published February 17, 2006

Call it a good sense of capitalism, but a great sampler entices the listener to want more. This two-CD, 47-track set does just that, but most of the pieces are not from other CDs; rather, they were recorded to tie in with a Smithsonian exhibition spearheaded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.  It takes the listener along several of the so-called Silk Roads, stopping along the way to sample the local musical culture. Most of the sounds come from Middle Asia, from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, but also from Mongolia, China and Japan. It is divided into two major sections, “Masters and Traditions,” which presents classical music traditions, and “Minstrels and Lovers,” which presents more popular musical forms. “Dance Of Tamir Agha,” from Armenia, embodies pure sensuality. “Shushtari” (on the Iranian ney) and “Lullaby from Itsuki” (on the shakuhachi) present breathing as music. Indeed, this music brilliantly concretizes human wishes, fears, hopes and desires: the instruments played, the songs sung, are earth-bound like few others. The Sufi chant from China, “Zikr,” presents the breath again: via forcefully inhaling and exhaling, the musicians create an atmosphere worthy of the devotion or ecstasy they wish to achieve.

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