ARMENIAN SPIRIT, Hespérion XXI et al, Jordi Savall (director) (Alia Vox). The duduk is “the only instrument that makes me weep”, said Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Existent since 99BC, the duduk is a double-reed woodwind with a range of a minor tenth from F sharp above middle C to ledger line A. They are mostly played in pairs, one on the bourbon drone and the other on the melody. Landlocked Eurasian Armenia came late to harmony. Not that they need it, as the sparse beauty of only two duduks is self-sufficient. Their tone approximates a poignantly warm saxophone. Their static and meditative sound matches the country’s mountain landscape with its many Apostolic monasteries, one of which is the oldest national church in the world. Armenia was the world’s first Christianised country in 301AD, 81 years ahead of Rome. It traces its antediluvian roots back to Noah and the flood, which they date as 2348BC. Savall is booked for Womad next March. His selection of 18 tracks here covers the early medieval period to the 19th century with a 317-page multilingual book crammed with historical notes. Top drawer.
THE WIND HORSE, Anda Union (Hohhot/Southbound). This octet of men and two women, who performed at this year’s Womad, assertively preserves the nomadic culture of North Mongolia from extinction. The Wind Horse’s 13 items comprise throat singing activated by those hard throaty basso bottom Cs of the men, plus long songs with solo female voices singing slow and decorated vocalises with nasal vibratoless tone. The impressive and plucked and bowed instruments finely match the outdoor aura of the singing style. The moving tribute to their iconic Genghis Khan (track 12) underlines the gut honesty of their presentation. Recommended.
RAIN OF BLESSINGS: VAJRA CHANTS, Lama Gyurme et al (Real World/Southbound). Saviour of this erratic CD is the Bhutan-born Gyurme, whose early attraction to monastic life led his serenely stentorian basso profundo towards the meditative sound of Tibetan Buddhism’s ritualistic incantations. He’s outstanding. Buy it just for that. Some of the accompaniments containing bells and percussion sound genuinely Tibetan; others are amorphous mush. A mere one page of notes contains little more than acknowledgements and names.
RADIO BAGHDAD, Fawzy Al-Aiedy (Institut de Monde Arabe/Ode). Five of the 14 tracks sound exotically Iraqi and the others start likewise until Western corruption of the East is demonstrated in the entry of a drum kit and Western middlebrow melodic style; Fawzy’s 30-year exile in France has probably made him more Western than Iraqi. Good background music for a Middle Eastern restaurant but not recommended for true ethno-musicologists.