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Written in fRoots issue 221, 2001

Over The Wind

Traditional Crossroads 80702-4300-2 (2001)

The santur played by Kurdish Iranian Ardavan Kamkar, youngest member of the Kamkars Ensemble but here playing entirely solo, is of the usual Persian pattern, a small dulcimer with 9 groups of 4 steel strings divided by bridges, and a further 9 groups of brass strings that pass over the right-hand bridges, producing a total 27 notes.
      Normally they would be tuned to a particular mode, but Kamkar uses his own tunings that access a greater chromaticism, allowing him to draw on several modes within one tuning. He explores the consequent possibilities to the full, in inventive compositions that float easily across the divide between the improvisatory life and fluency of Middle Eastern classical and folk musics and the scales and harmony of western music. Not only is his technique remarkable, involving equal weight to both hands rather than the right-hand dominance of many players, and feature cunning touches such as pitch bending, but he draws an unusually rich tone and spot-on intonation from an instrument that isnít one of the easiest dulcimers to keep in tune.
      The long opener is an elegant contrapuntal piece largely in an unexpectedly western-sounding minor key that progressively adds in fast Middle-Eastern ripples and turns, returns to a reflective development of the theme over arpeggiated chording, moves to almost pianistic style before heading into another shimmering, trilling workout followed by a final re-statement of the theme. The other five tracks, between five and twelve or so minutes long, are similarly full of turns in pace and texture and integration of European-sounding and Middle Eastern approaches.
      Itís an album to cause any player of a hammered dulcimer type instrument to ponder and practise.

© 2001 Andrew Cronshaw

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