Bold, varied and adventurous
Jon Lusk 2009
The small Transcaucasian republic of Azerbaijan is best known for its classical mugham tradition – the local equivalent of neighbouring Iran's dastgah, or the Turkish makam. Sevda Alekperzaheh isn't the first to successfully fuse this with a jazz sensibility, but the bulk of this album does the same with the region's folk songs, also straying into blues, soul and even funk stylings, which don't always work so well. Even so, it's a bold, varied and adventurous set with plenty of fine musicianship.
'Sevda' is a Turkish word meaning 'passion' or 'love' – also a moniker for the 'Bosnian blues' or sevdalinka – and you could say she's well named. Alekperzaheh is a versatile and passionate singer with a fine voice. She once took lessons from Azerbaijan's most famous singer, Alim Qasimov, and not only includes one song from his repertoire (Getme-Getme) but also employs a musician associated with him – Malik Mansurov on tar (lute) and oud. Well, they are on the same label…
The agreeably varied settings range from spare nagara (hand drum) and saz (another type of lute) to lush, colourful arrangements with piano, double bass, horns, duduk (Armenian woodwind) and percussion. Of the two instrumentals, the more accessible is Sari Gelin, with mournful duduk and increasingly driving nagara; the shrill, bagpipe-like sound of the zurna (shawm) on Gobustan is harder to warm to.
Ele Deme is a fine opener, with Sevda progressing from a husky murmur to quite strident tones and hints of soul pyrotechnics before kamancha (spiked fiddle) player Rafael Aliyev masterfully picks up on a phrase and runs with it. The jazz/mugham mix of Bayati Kurd is equally accomplished, but Getme Getme finds her wobbling a little uneasily between the rigours of Azerbaijani folk, western classicism and soul diva mannerisms. And the over-cooked jazz funk/folk hybrid of Ay Giz will be a bridge too far for some.
Sevdali Dunya isn't for purists, but apart from the occasional stylistic faux pas, it's a good introduction to an artist who deserves wider exposure. It may also inspire further exploration of the riches of Azerbaijani folk and classical music.