Narada World 2002
Label website, Artist website
|Formed in 1992, the Persian emigré formation "Axiom of Choice" is led by Loga Ramin Torkian, artistic director and guitarist/composer. It includes the mesmerizing Iranian vocalist Mamak Khadem who's performed with Hans Zimmer, Jamshied Sharifi, Tulku, Omar Faruk Tekbilek and ex-Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger. Her studies in Bulgarian and classical Indian styles outside her native repertoir expand the stylistic scope of the band's mostly Iranian focus.
The band's discography includes 1994's eclectic Beyond Denial (XDot 25], 2000's far more romantic Niya Nesh [Narada] and today's Unfolding. The remaining core team of wind player Ruben Haratoonian (clarinet, duduk and zurna) and percussionist Mammad M. Zadeh here adds Martin Tillman on electric cello and bass, Simeon Pillich on acoustic bass, Andre Harutyunyan on percussion, Shahab Fayyaz on ney, Saied Farajpouri on kemanche, Yatrika Shah-Rais on harmonium and Bikram Gosh on tabla,
Using quattrains from Omar Khayyam's mystical vision to set the energetic space of each track, Unfolding opens with "Mystics and Fools" to the following stanza:
|If drunk on this precious wine, so I am.
If a worshipper in this shrine, so I am.
Each clan makes my image in its own light.
Maker, priest, and covert of my own faith - so I am!
|This track uses a typical Oriental descending motif with broad trills on clarinet and spiked fiddle to instantly set up a coffee shop atmosphere of rosewater and absynth, somewhere in Turkey perhaps, or farther east even. Mamak overdubs herself for the main theme to engage in free-from vocalizing against it while Martin Tillman's electronically enhanced cello injects a thoroughly modern ambient flavor. Haratoonian's taqsim improv on the clarinet mimics Khadem's melismatic undulations, then the two percussionists play off each other for some intricate exchanges before the refrain reconnects with the opening main theme.
"Evanescent" slowly whirling ambient guitar creates a low-gravity environment with some moody shadows compliments of Tillman's distorted cello before Mamak Khadem's wordless voice enters, softly and mysterious at first, then overdubbed for echo effects before the lyrics are sung Bulgarian-style. The rhythm weave of Zadeh and Hautyunyan maintains a sensual, self-regenerating current. The lyrics contemplate the endless turning of Life's wheel where "the dust lying beneath your steps was once the pupil in a beloved's eye."
|The two-part "Through the Shadows" uses Tillman's effects cello and Torkian's quarter-tone guitar for an eerily dreamlike drift across desolate soundscapes of clouds and dark mysteries before a minimal hand percussion groove creates compass and form for the instrumental melody on the always-melancholy Armenian apricot-wood oboe called duduk.
On "Elixir", we're introduced to the saz, the legendary Turkish warrior-poets' long-necked lute of choice. Bikram's tabla and Yatrika's harmonium add exotic Indian touches, Ruben's strident zurna is offset by his acqueous clarinet solo, and Khadem's sings about the exquisite vulnerability and torture of an opened heart, what Khayyam poetically refers to as the "sacred wine", "inebriation" and "intoxication" - when the lover/mistress is recognized as the personal Divine, when one's wellbeing is dependent utterly on semething as little as a sly glance from the beloved.
The album sustains this otherwordly mood of introspection beginning to end. While stylistically and timbrally clearly set in the Orient, it is also suffused with pervasive ambient electronic elements that subtly yet irrevocibly shift the Middle-Eastern balance into the more global WorldBeat arena. As is typical of the complex and earthy rhythms of the area, the grooves transcend the predictable, monotonous drum-machine repetitiveness of Techno for a far more organic, shifty and often erotic mid-tempo seduction. There's a chamber-music finesse here, of ensemble interaction, instrumental refinement, compositional charm and depth that quite goes beyond other efforts with equal ambitions. This is intimate mood music with overt mystical flavors - evening music, to be imbibed when the world begins to fade from consciousness, when invisible things start to rise from the deep well of your own unknown being.