First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu, March 13, 2008, 10:40 AM CDT
As strange as it may seem, beneath the veil and behind closed doors, Iran always has had a thriving, hardcore rock scene. Although the nation’s current religious leadership has made the performance of Western music all but impossible within its borders, the roots that were planted in the culture prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 have continued to evolve, flourish, and grow. The internet has helped considerably, of course, by allowing prospective rock stars to conspire to get together and jam. It was out of this clandestine underground that Pouya Mahmoodi, a young Persian guitarist and singer, emerged.
Mahmoodi’s story certainly is a fascinating one. He was born 35 years ago in Tehran, and he has been playing guitar for most of his life. His father had been an avid fan of Western rock music, and not surprisingly, he passed his tastes along to his son. Mahmoodi’s style began to morph in the mid-1980s, when he developed a passion for traditional Persian music. The healing power of zaar was of particular interest to him, and over time, he began to adopt the traditional sounds of his homeland for the guitar, blending them with the contemporary, Western fare upon which he was raised.
It’s difficult to describe the music on Mehr to someone who has never heard Mahmoodi play. Some of the exotic rhythms that typically are associated with Persian music are present on all of the tracks, but the fluidity of the traditional melodies is tempered by Mahmoodi’s love of Western rock. At times, his work sounds like a distorted, feedback-drenched variation on Santana’s output. On other tunes, Mahmoodi emulates a heavy metal style that feels as if Deep Purple had decided to deliver a fandango.
The contributions from Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham, who performs on several of Mehr’s tracks, help Mahmoodi to bridge the divide between two cultures. Their ideas gel perfectly, providing a clear illustration of the commonalities that can be found between Western jazz and Persian music. This is due, at least in part, to the similarities between how Mahmoodi and Cobham’s former bandmate John McLaughlin play their guitars. Yet, these comparisons are only of limited use because Mahmoodi incorporates so many styles, along with his own Persian influences, into his world that he is able to create both a guitar tone and an approach that are really quite unique. Those disposed to liking music from the 1970s — be it prog-rock or fusion — will find a lot to admire about Mahmoodi’s debut.
Without a doubt, Mehr is an interesting disc, one that points to future collaborations between Middle Eastern and North American artists. In an era when politicians on both sides of the cultural divide are refusing to budge and talk through their differences, perhaps it is up to the musicians to remind us that we all have far more that unites us than divides us. Life is short, and it’s certainly time to wake up, start listening to each other, and celebrate the commonality of purpose and expression among the world’s musical cultures — before it’s too late. ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box