The debut album by Niyaz is a delicious, intoxicating collection of songs, with a sound so fresh that it’s impossible to reduce it to a particular genre. The band describes their sound as “21st-century folk music,” and that’s a start, but don’t let that fool you: The rolling thunder of frame drums and rippling tablas, reinforced by some intricate drum programming, form the base of these groove-driven pieces.
Multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian anchors the melodies with taut, layered riffs on saz, tar and guitar, while vocalist Azam Ali just soars and swoops through some supple channeling of the spirit of Urdu and Sufi poetry. Producer Carmen Rizzo, who’s worked with artists as diverse as Ryuichi Sakamoto and Khaled, brings a subtle electronic edge to the music, without ever taking it in some trendy dance-oriented direction. The passion and gravitas of Persian music is always present, but Niyaz distills it into clear, infinitely focused five-minute songs with unforgettable melodies, riding on controlled waves of tension and release.
Some of Azam’s harmonies — particularly on the closing track, “Minara” — have such power and beauty they’ll leave you speechless. Fans of the late, lamented Dead Can Dance will certainly want to hear this, as will anyone with a taste for the more exotic hybrids of modern music.
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