Soundchecks Music Reviews

Portals of Grace

Narada World

Notes:
Azam Ali sang backup vocals on the recent Steve Stevens record Flamenco A Go Go.

She studied the santour, the eastern version of a hammered dulcimer, with legendary player Manoocher Sadeghi.

Guest musician on the CD, Chris Bleth, plays a wind instrument known as a duduk, which is like a Central Asian version of the oboe.

PORTALS OF GRACE
Azam Ali

review by Michael Lohr

Azam Ali possesses one the strongest, most ethereal voices in music today. Only the wondrous voices of Loreena McKennitt and Soeur Keyrouz rival her for emotion, tone and clarity. Azam Ali was born in Iran and raised in India, eventually she moved to the United States where she became the vocal force behind the musical group Vas. Portals Of Grace, her first solo project, is an eclectic mix of Medieval, World and Renaissance music. This record is as good as anything she has done with Vas, and that unto itself is a dramatic statement.

Portals Of Grace utilises compositions from 12th-14th century France and the Mediterranean region and intermingles them with instrumental interpretations of Breton and Swedish folk music. You can hear her influences in her music, from the prayers and chants of Vedic worship and Hindu bhajan found in India to western medieval spiritual/ chant traditions. Her attraction to western medieval musical traditions should not come as a surprise considering she is influenced by German abbess/composer Hildegard von Bingen. On Portals Of Grace she smoothly integrates the microtonal mantras and trills of her Persian and Indian heritage with Latin and Byzantine chants as well as with vocal arrangements based on ancient songs from the Iberian region of Galicia and Moorish Spain. She is equally gifted at vocalising in multiple languages such as Latin, French, Ladino (the lingua franca of the Judeo-Spanish tradition), Galician (the native tongue of the Galician peoples of Northern Spain and related to the Celtic Brythonic language group) and Arabic. With Portals Of Grace Azam Ali sheds her earthbound limitations and becomes a primal, ethereal force. The effect is nothing less than stunning. I am in awe of her talent.

As more and more listeners are reintroduced to the ancient tradition of using music as a form of prayer the concept of devotional music is finally coming of age in the west. And Azam Ali, be it in Vas or on her own, is leading the movement. Portals of Grace will delight fans of ambient, new age, and world music, but those who favour more adventurous classical music should also give this CD a spin.


Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press