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Shadow and Light: The Rumi Experience
Giovanni SOLLIMA (b.1962)
Lamentatio [8:43]
Evan ZIPORYN (b.1959)
Honey from Alast [11:14]
Shirish KORDE (b.1945)
Joy [8:33]
Somei SATOH (b.1947)
Birds in Warped Time II [11:31]
ZHAO Jiping (b.1945)
Summer in the High Grassland [4:03]
LJOVA (b.1978)
Shadow and Light [16:04]
duoJalal
rec. 2016, New York
BRIDGE 9469 [60:12]

There is a story about the great Persian mystic and poet Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi which has been told many times. One day he was walking in the goldsmiths’ bazaar in Konya, when he heard the sound of the goldsmiths’ hammers (a harmonious goldsmith rather than a harmonious blacksmith?) and was immediately sent into a state of ecstasy. There are miniatures which show him taking the hand of one of his friends among the goldsmiths, Salahuddin Zarkub, and whirling in ecstasy through the streets with him. Rumi’s son-in-law Sultan Walud relates Rumi’s wishes for his funeral:

The master spoke: Now for my funeral
Bring drums and tambourines and kettledrums
And bring me dancing to my grave, my friends,
Intoxicated, joyful, clap your hands!
(quoted from Annemarie Schimmel, I Am Wind You Are Fire, 1992, p.26)

Images of music and dancing permeate the considerable body of Rumi’s writings. Indeed, his great work the Masnavi (some 25,000 couplets long) begins with a poem in which a flute (presumably a Persian ney) and its music symbolize a human soul filled with the inspiration of the Divine spirit:

Hearken to this Reed forlorn,
Breathing, ever since ’twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain
Of impassioned love and pain…

’Tis the flame of Love that fired me,
’Tis the wine of Love inspired me.
(translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, Rumi: Poet and Mystic, 1950)

There is, then, every reason why tribute should be paid to Rumi through music, as it is here. But the particular nature of this tribute has another relevance to Rumi. He declared, “I am neither Christian nor Jew, nor Magian, nor Muslim” (as translated by Edmund Helminski) and was implicitly echoing lines from a poem by Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), an acknowledged influence on him:

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur’ān.

I profess the religion of love.
(translated by Michael A. Sell)

For both men the love of God, the experience of God, transcended the categories of human religious discourse and man-made boundaries; Rumi also wrote: “I am neither of the East nor of the West”. So, fittingly, the music on this CD is performed by a violist from Australia (Kathryn Lockwood) and a percussionist from the Lebanon (Yousif Sheronick), both now resident in the USA and a married couple. The music is written by composers from Italy (Giovanni Sollima), USA (Evan Ziporyn), Japan (Somei Satoh), India / East Africa (Shirish Korde), China (Zhao Jiping) and Russia (Ljova). At least five of the six composers have had some involvement with Yo Ma’s cross-cultural project, The Silk Road Ensemble (Sollima, Ziporyn, Korde, Zhao and Ljova): the same might be true of Somei Satoh, but I have been unable to confirm this. So, the cross-cultural creative impulse is very much at work here, as it was in Rumi’s thought.

For some of these composers their place of birth and their early development would inescapably have prompted thought about the interrelations between cultures which the modern western world largely prefers to see as distinct. An obvious example is provided by the case of Giovanni Sollima. He was born in Palermo in Sicily, that wonderful island in the centre of the Mediterranean on which several cultures and religions are superimposed like geographical strata. Sicily has been ruled at one time or another by, amongst others, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Normans, the French and the Spanish. A single structure can contain evidences of several of these cultures.

To take a single example from Palermo, the city of Sollima’s birth, the 12th century church known as La Martorana is built on the central Greek-cross plan; some of its walls carry decidedly Byzantine mosaics. The reasonably sharp-eyed visitor will also see texts in Arabic script: one of these is apparently a translation from a Byzantine hymn; other walls and part of the ceiling in this relatively small church carry later Baroque frescoes in the high ‘Italian’ manner. No one of these elements can be said to be quintessentially ‘Sicilian’ – what is Sicilian is the fusion. In a non-artistic context, I was very struck, during a short holiday in Palermo, to see, in the area of one of the city’s oldest markets, modern signs which carried street names in Arabic, Hebrew and Sicilianu. To grow up as a Palermitano is, inescapably, to be aware of cross-cultural connections  It should come as no surprise that the music which Giovanni Sollima writes (I am talking here of his work in general, so far as I have heard it, rather than just of Lamentatio alone) should incorporate many stylistic influences, modern and traditional. Sollima is, of course, a distinguished cellist, as well as a composer and Lamentatio was originally written (in 1998) as a solo cello piece, but also transcribed for viola (by the composer) in the same year. Here, the string part is supplemented by a percussion part created by Yousif Sheronick, using Bodhran, Cajon, Maraca and Caxixi, in the ‘inter-national’ spirit of this venture. Sollima can be heard playing the original cello version as the last track on his CD of 2012 Caravaggio (Casa Musicale Sonzogno, CMS 4488). The passion of the music is as evident in the recording by duoJalal [since this seems to be the form in which the two musicians prefer to refer to themselves, I will adopt it in this review] as it is in Sollima’s account of his own work, though the added percussion makes the contrasting tempos of sections of the piece more obvious. I presume that on CMS 4488 it is Sollima we can hear vocalizing alongside the cello – so even there the cello is not without accompaniment! Listening to duoJalal playing ‘Lamentatio’ as the first piece on this CD one is immediately aware of the considerable musicianship of Lockwood and Sheronick. One knows one is in safe hands!

Where Sollima’s piece is full of fierce energy, even frenzy, Somei Satoh’s Birds in Warped Time II is serene and calm. Like Lamentatio (where the composer apparently had in mind Sicilian ‘Easter Lamentations’), Satoh’s piece was originally written for different instruments. A first version (as ‘Birds in Warped Time’) was written for Japanese instruments, the shakahuchi and the koto. Satoh himself made a transcription for violin and piano (adding the suffix II) – Anne Akiko Meyers plays this version on her 2003 CD Li Jian (AVIE AV 2004) – and it is this which duoJalal play, in an arrangement for viola and vibraphone. It is ravishingly beautiful – a beauty embodied in lines from Rumi in the poem with which it is here paired: “The musical air travelling / through a flute, / the spark of a stone, a flickering/ in metal. Both candle, / and the moth mad around it.” The long lines of the viola, pitch shifting slowly, and the relatively slight, scampering touches of the vibraphone make a magical blend.

In both these cases, Lockwood and Sheronick have co-opted already existing pieces for the project they call the ‘Rumi Experience’. The same holds true of Shirish Korde’s Joy and Zhao Jiping’s Summer in the High Grassland (of which more later). The remaining two works in the programme, Evan Ziporyn’s Honey from Alast and Ljova’s Shadow and Light were commissioned by duoJalal. (Each of the two commissioned composers chose a poem by Rumi and used it as a basis for their own work. In the other four cases, duoJalal have chosen appropriate poems, which are printed in the CD booklet and are, it seems, read before each musical work in concert performances).

Shirish Korde, of Indian descent, was born in Uganda; he has lived, studied and worked in the USA since 1965. In the note he contributes to the CD booklet he tells us that Joy was written as the fourth and final movement “of [his] violin concerto Svara-Yantra (2005)”. There is a recording of this striking work by violinist Joanna Kurkowicz and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ruben Silva (Neuma 450-107), released in 2007. (I cross-reference these earlier recordings since one of the several kinds of pleasure this CD has given me is that it has led me to investigate some other fascinating music). Korde also tells the reader that “this version of Joy was created especially for duoJalal and is an extended “duet-cadenza” marked by intricate rhythmic interplay between viola and percussion”. Korde’s piece shares its title, Joy, with the composition which opens the first eponymous CD by the group Shakti, an influential group which fused jazz, rock and Indian classical music in a heady blend and released three albums between 1976 and 1977. On
that first album by Shakti the composition is credited to John McLaughlin and the group’s violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar. Echoes of Shakti’s ‘Joy’ can be heard in the central section of Korde’s Joy. This is unsurprising, given that Korde, who studied Jazz at Berklee College of Music, is an avowed admirer of Mclaughlin. Indeed, Korde dedicates this piece to McLaughlin and the tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussein. Although Korde’s Joy is, we are told, fully notated, this performance by duoJalal has an improvisatory air about it. Here Sheronick plays an udu, a Nigerian hand played percussion instrument, based on a traditional water jug. Both his work and the playing of Kathryn Lockwood are especially impressive on this track, the dialogue of the two both sensitive and exhilarating.

Zhao Jiping is perhaps best known as a writer of film scores, though this piece was written for YoYo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble and recorded on their 2004 album, Silk-Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon (Sony Classical SK 93962), with Ma as the soloist. I am indebted to the present CD’s booklet notes for the knowledge that Zhao, in writing the piece, was inspired by the music of Mongolia and sought to imitate the sound world of the morin khuur (a traditional two-stringed instrument of Momgolia, played with a bow) Its name has usually been Englished as ‘horsehead fiddle’. In the piece Zhao wrote for YoY o ma he sought to convey, through the cello, something of the morin khuur’s sound-world. Here, of course, it is Kathryn Lockwood who must ‘mimic’ the language of the Mongolian instrument, supported by her husband playing the kanjira (a kind of tambourine from South India) and a maraca – the more familiar shaker. Making a judgement based on my very limited experience of the morin khuur, I’d say that she makes a very good job of a difficult task (her sound is certainly comparable to that of YoYo Ma in its evocation of the wide horizons of the high Mongolian grasslands). Sheronick’s percussion work is as adroit and well-judged as it is throughout the album.

Turning now to the two works commissioned by duoJalal, by Evan Ziporyn and Ljova (a name – it is a diminutive of his birth name – by which Lev Zhurbin is often known), Ljova’s Shadow & Light claims a more intimate link with the text of a poem by Rumi than most of its companion pieces on this album. It is the composer’s response to a translation by Coleman Barks which begins “How does part of the world leave the world” (it can be found at page 20 of Rumi: Selected Poems (Penguin, 1995). Incidentally, the text given in the CD booklet is incomplete (though it does include the passages most immediately relevant to Ljova’s composition.). The composition is in four movements: Rubato – Allegro comodo – Moderato – Allegro. The composer writes of the piece that each movement “[shines] a different thickness of light into a space”. Zhurbin was born in Moscow and emigrated to the USA in 1990. He has composed and arranged music in a range of musical ‘kinds’ – jazz, classical and folk, for example. The range of his interests and competences is evident in even a brief and partial list of some of those with whom he has worked: The City of London Sinfonia, the Silk Road Project, the Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade and the Kronos Quartet. His own instrument is the viola. After a promising first movement I was, I have to say, slightly disappointed by this piece. Oddly, the writing for the viola is relatively uninteresting, often involving too-often repeated musical cells which don’t hold one’s interest all that long; also, compared with other works on the disc, there is less tonal variety. I found my attention grabbed, rather, by the varied colours of Yousif Sheronick’s percussive palette. He is listed as playing six instruments at various points in the four movements: Tibetan Singing Bowl, Kalimba, Pitchpipe, Frame Drum, Riq and Djembe. The results are delightful and Sheronick’s judgement of dynamics is perfect.

I was rather more favourably impressed by Evan Ziporyn’s contribution, Honey from Alast. Ziporyn provides the text he sought to respond to in the work he has written. It comes from A.J. Arberry’s book the Mystical Poems of Rumi (in the expanded edition published in 2009; unfortunately, I only have the slimmer earlier edition on my bookshelves). I will quote just a few lines:

       you are that melody
      which has brought a sign from the spiritual world.
Pass by the ear and strike upon our souls,
      for you are the life of this dead world.
Ravish the soul ….
Your sweet soul gives a sign
      that you were nourished in honey from Alast.
Blades have begun to sprout from the earth
      To show the sowings that you have made.

Zaporyn recognizes such words as saying much about the nature of music as something to which we respond both physically and spiritually and which nourishes and prompts growth. The phrase from the poem which he has chosen as his title needs some explanation and though I am no kind of authority on Islamic thought and tradition, I will attempt to provide some. The word ‘Alast’ refers to the Primordial Day, just before the moment of the earth’s creation, when God summoned all of future creation to his presence and required all the ‘children of Adam’ to recognise Him and to commit themselves to His worship. So the phrase “Honey from Alast” describes a sweet reminder of that precious moment, evoked by the music to which Rumi refers. Ziporyn’s Honey from Alast is in two parts. The first begins slowly with viola and vibraphone, the music only gradually emerging, as it were – (perhaps reminiscent of the blades beginning “to sprout from the earth”) before a moment of silence, after which the viola becomes more assertive. For most of Part I the vibraphone is cast, essentially as accompanist of the viola. The writing for the viola alludes to both Middle and Far-Eastern music. Part I of Honey from Alast remains moderate and restrained in both tempo and dynamics through its less than four-and-a half minutes. In Part II the rhythms are livelier, the tempo somewhat quicker; some of the material played by the violist in Part I is now developed more fully. In Part II the percussionist plays, at various times, the Peruvian cajon, the Middle-Eastern riq and the Irish bodhrán. Some of the rhythmic patterns sound Indian, though there are Balkan reminiscences too and I don’t think it is only the presence of the bodhrán which makes for a certain Celtic quality too. The interplay of musical idioms sounds wholly natural and organic, completely unforced, and the dialogue between violist and percussionist is subtle and intriguing.

Born in Chicago in 1959 Evan Ziporyn, like most of the composers represented on this album, has a musical CV full of work (as a player of the clarinet and bass clarinet, a composer, arranger and conductor ) in many different kinds of music – in his case with, for example, Steve Reich, Bang On A Can, Anne Sofie Von Otter, Terry Riley, the Chinese pipa player Wu Man, the Kronos Quartet, Paul Simon, the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and with two ‘Balinese’ ensembles, Gamelan Seker Jaya, which is based in San Francisco, and Galak Tika which he founded in 1993 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches music. In these diverse interests, in his refusal to be confined by the generic distinctions of which the West is so fond, he typifies the spirit of this CD – and of Rumi, as illustrated at the beginning of this review.

This very rewarding CD pays an eloquent and engaging (I am tempted to add the adjective ‘illuminating’) tribute to the wisdom and vision of Rumi. It does so by the ‘absolute’ quality of the best music on the disc and by that spirit of unity which Rumi expressed: a spirit of anti-provincialism, as I think of it. I adapt the phrase from an essay by Ezra Pound, first published in 1917, ‘Provincialism the Enemy’. Pound explained that by provincialism he meant “an ignorance of the customs of other peoples … a desire to control the acts of other people”. Rumi was utterly free of these attitudes. In their recognition of the international nature of music’s language, so too, clearly, are duoJalal. The name Lockwood and Sheronick have chosen for their work together clearly alludes to Rumi’s full name (Jalaluddin Rumi). I am told by a bilingual Iranian (who happens to be my wife) that the word Jalal can mean either ‘glory’ or ‘joy’. Both meanings have a relevance to this impressive disc.

Glyn Pursglove



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