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Breaking tradition
Can Alizadeh's total improvisation connect with audiences?

By Farhad Bahrami
July 5, 2002
The Iranian

Review of concert by Hossein Alizadeh and Madjid Khaladj in San Diego, June 8, 2002.

Master musician Hossein Alizadeh played a concert in San Diego, accompanied by Madjid Khaladj. In the first set Ostad Alizadeh played Avaz-e Esfahan on setar, and in the second half, Avaz-e Dashti on the tar. Khaladj played mostly the tombak, occasionally the daf, and in one piece, finger-cymbals.

There were two encores: one an improvisation in Chahargah, and one an improvised variation on "Morgh-e Sahar" in Mahur.

The whole concert was improvised. Furthermore it was improvised without relying on traditional concepts of form or rhythm. In other words, there were no set pieces (such as pish-daramad or chaharmezrab), and not even pieces adhering to a fixed rhythmic cycle.

While this gave total freedom to Alizadeh, it made Khaladj's job very difficult, in that he had to follow Alizadeh's virtuosi flights of improvisation as best he could in real time.

Although Khaladj is a wonderful musician and the two players have a great rapport, the many changing rhythms and tempos made it impossible for the drum to synchronize to the melody at all times. Especially for those used to a more traditional setting, this made getting into the music difficult. On the other hand, there were those who enjoyed the concert because it broke with tradition.

Among interesting techniques used by the players were playing the daf cold (with loose skin), bending daf notes by applying pressure to the skin, and playing the tar without the plectrum (using setar technique). I think everyone agrees the players are of the highest caliber in technique and musicianship.

Alizadeh's musical journey has taken him from traditional virtuoso, to teacher of the radif, to innovative arranger, to composer of film and chamber music, to improvising artist during the last 30 years.

His successful experiments have changed the course of Persian music. Whether this approach of total improvisation connects with audiences remains to be seen.

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