Feast of Silence
(Narada, 2004)

Vas, a duo formed by vocalist Azam Ali and percussionist Greg Ellis, has been around for almost a decade. Feast of Silence is their fourth CD release and their first album since 2000. They describe their music as "alternative world." Azam takes care of the singing while Greg handles percussion. The music is heavily inspired by Middle Eastern and Indian influences.

In short, I would almost describe Vas as the next generation of Dead Can Dance. Those of you familiar with DCD know that they ventured into Middle Eastern sounds before they broke up (Into the Labyrinth). Lisa Gerrard continued in that vein to some degree with her solo and soundtrack projects (such as Gladiator). While Vas and DCD are distinct, you cannot deny the similarities between the vocal styles and the use of a variety of percussive instruments not normally used in the West. Not to mention, both bands make good use of the dulcimer.

According to the promotional material, Azam grew up in India (although she was born in Iran). Like Gerrard, Azam often sings phonetically, "using her voice more and more as an instrument to capture a universal human emotion that defies ethnic specificities." She has resided in Los Angeles for close to 20 years. Besides her work with Vas, she has a solo CD, Portals of Grace (2002).

Greg, a native of California, is a percussive genius. He has collected instruments from around the world. On Feast of Silence he performs on the "udu, nagara, frame drum, mridangam, ghatam, cajon, chan chan, kharkharba, talking drum, riq, dumbek, tapan, sabar, toms, cymbals, bowls, zils, shakers, gongs, bells" and the hammered dulcimer! Like Azam, he too has a solo CD, Kala Rupa (2001).

There are nine tracks on Feast of Silence. All are good. Most tracks represent Vas, the duo. However, both Greg and Azam each have a track in which their partner does not participate. For Greg, that track is "Moksha," a tune that proves percussion can drive a song. In Azam's case, she performs the title track, "Feast of Silence," without Greg. What is interesting about this song, and this CD in general, is that Azam sings lyrics in English for the first time on a Vas CD.

While the music on Feast of Silence easily makes this one of the best CDs I've run across this year, Azam and Greg were not alone in creating this brilliant offering. They were joined by Tyler Bates (guitar, keyboard drones), Pejman Hadadi (tombak), Deepak Ram (bansuri, voice), Cameron Stone (cello), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass), Naser Musa (oud) and Brent Meyer (bouzuki).

If you are familiar with Vas, then you should already have Feast of Silence. If you were a fan of DCD and miss this style of music, rejoice in the fact that you have half a dozen CDs from Greg and Azam to help fill the void left when DCD disbanded. If you are not familiar with Vas or DCD, then you have a lot of catching up to do! My condolences to your wallet. But, hey, it will be worth it!

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 11 September 2004

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