Album Title: In the House of Mirrors
Performer: Hector Zazou & Swara
Label and #: Crammed Disc Craw 47
Play Time:
Recorded: 2008

Algerian-born Frenchman Hector Zazou's classy ambience for Sevara Nazarkhan's debut album presaged In the House of Mirrors and the lead role Toir Kuziyev's Uzbek tambur would play in it. Mirrors is purely instrumental and down-tempo. Tambur, oud, Indian violin, slide guitar and bansuri, muted trumpet, piano and percussion intersect in dreamy meditations that refract off virtual mirrors for endless interplays of mixing timbres and decays. Rhythmic underpinnings are minimal. Think Brian Eno or Terry Riley in Asia. Inner Space music lifted straight from traditional precedents of modal-improv raga intros. Modernist alaps.

Zazou had previously released albums with a similarly sacred center. Think Songs from the Cold Seas [Sony] and Lights in the Dark [Warner]. Then there are his expert production values for Tibet's Yung Chen Lhamo [Real World] and the aforementioned Nazarkhan. Mirrors demonstrates what would happen were Anouar Brahem to trade his oud for tambur -- though National Conservatory-trained Toir Kuziyev plays the Arabian lute as well -- and enlist the services of one of the world's preeminent studio wizards, then surround himself with like-minded soloists from diverse traditions.

Mirrors celebrates what are likely the best-recorded ethnic strings in my collection. Listening to this album isn't mere introspection or submersion. It's a profound exercise in otherworldy timbres. From the guttural primitivism of plucked string buzz to the fire-fly swarms of swirling harmonics dying brightly on the breath, it all floats over deep e-drones and mood effects to explore the co-existence of synthesized low bass and perfectly recorded acoustic instruments. In fact, if you fancy Indian or Mughal music but prefer the exploratory intros to the later exploits of virtuosity, there perhaps is no album more suitable to recommend than In the House of Mirrors. With its superb production values and inspired performers, audiophile and meditator alike are catered to. It makes Mirrors a masterpiece in the general sector of ambient music but otherwise impossible to classify.