various artists,
Music of the Silk Road
(ARC, 2003)

ARC continues its record of excellence in folk and popular recordings from unlikely places with this compilation from countries on the legendary Silk Road, the ancient trading route from Europe to China.

There is plenty to enjoy and lots to learn about as well. This CD explores music from countries as diverse as Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and China. The Silk Road concept is simply what holds together a sampler of music from recordings already released by ARC. It's a great way to get to know the music of the region a little better and, if desired, explore in more context on the original ARC recordings.

To begin at the beginning, there is some exceptional music from Turkey. Among my favorites on this disc, "Misket (Scented Apple)" is a particularly infectious dance tune from Ankara.

From Armenia, Djivan Gasparian gives us a lovely solo on the duduk, a kind of oboe, with a timeless sound. "You are a Ploughman" is the name of this haunting tune. The one selection from Iran, "Khayam va Koozeh," is played on a santoor, a kind of zither. This is one of several gems on the album.

Uzbekistan's contribution is notable in that it reflects conditions for musicians there in 1970, when only state-sponsored recordings were allowed. "Morning in the Desert" is a flute solo accompanied by the oxymoronically named National Orchestra of Folk Music.

Another piece of note is "Atan," a nomad dance from Afghanistan. It sounds a bit like someone is banging a garbage can lid while someone is playing a kazoo. Actually the instruments are a surnai and a dhol (a kind of drum). This is open-air music for nomads such as the Kochis, on their way with their flocks. While not beautiful, it invokes the harsh realities of life in one of the toughest parts of the world.

By contrast, the classical folk song from China "I Love You, Snow of the North" is refined, perhaps a bit overstylized, reflecting the long traditions of that country and civilization.

There are 17 tracks, each with its own special qualities. As usual with ARC, the liner notes give good explanations of songs, instruments, some lyric samples and contexts.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 17 July 2004

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