Dastgah Systems, Classical Music of Iran

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Glorious improvisations, stemming from a centuries-old Iranian tradition.

The dastgahs in question are the modes, or frameworks, of classical Iranian music. There are 12 of them, ten of which feature in this '60s-era recording. Essentially, they're vehicles for improvisation, be it instrumental or vocal, with the performer showing his art by how well he (or she) can extemporize around the dastgah. Unlike the blare of Western music, subtlety is the key here, almost to the point of minimalism, as gradual changes transform the melodies into something entirely different. It's an art with a centuries-old tradition, one that can take years to absorb, and few have either the skill or technique to become masters. Here you can hear how it should be done, with an ease and grace that's utterly transfixing. It's the distillation of history and culture, both fixed and encouraging an absolute freedom of expression. A paradox, perhaps, but an engaging one that takes many listens to completely appreciate.