The most fascinating musical hybrids these days tend to come from artists who are themselves cultural crossbreeds. They don't plan these new sounds, they arise organically, from within.

Take Azam Ali, born in Iran, raised in India and now living in the States. She started out by learning Persian classical music on the santur (hammered dulcimer) before turning to voice, where she has perfected her own style: flowing, wordless and timeless. Her blend of medieval European and Arab/Indian influences immediately brings to mind Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance), but Azam can stand the comparison, with a voice at least as powerful and graceful, and an equal ability to discover deliciously haunting harmonies.

After three albums of mystical, hypnotic ethno-acoustic trance music as Vas -- Azam's duo with percussion whiz Greg Ellis -- Azam offers up a solo album, "Portals of Grace" (Narada), which consists entirely of "cover versions," showcasing her love of 12th-14th century medieval music. From French troubadour to Latin chant, Sephardic song and Byzantine a cappella, Azam takes some truly ancient music and makes it sound startlingly modern.