Kamancello: Kamancello

In studio-based videos documenting kamanche player Shahriyar Jamshidi and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne performing their Kamancello pieces, the two sit facing one another—exactly what one would expect, given the music's intimate character. In fact, the interactions between them are so closely intertwined, the performances assume an almost sexual dimension, so physically responsive is each musician to what the other's doing. That dimension is reinforced by the nature of the music itself, which often exudes a rapturous and ecstatic quality that's reminiscent of Sufi music and Indian ragas (a mere scan of the track titles, among them “Incantation,” “Radiance,” and “Ascent,” conveys as much). Jamshidi and Weinroth-Browne might not physically touch, but their instruments' expressions coil tightly around one another, much as a lover's body does around another's (how fitting it is that one track is even called “Serpentine”).

Cultural boundaries collapse in this East-meets-West meeting, which features six completely improvised and unedited performances recorded live at Union Sound Company in Toronto. Weinroth-Browne, a graduate of Toronto's Glenn Gould School and the Artistic Director of Ottawa New Music Creators, possesses refined classical ability but can also play with raw intensity. A Kurdish Iranian kamanche player and Tehran University of Art graduate who settled in Canada in 2012, Jamshidi is the Eastern half of the Kamancello equation; of the group's two instrument sounds, it's obviously the kamanche, one of the oldest bowed string instruments from the Byzantine Empire and Golden Age centuries, that'll be less familiar to Western ears, even though the emotive timbres produced by the four-stringed spiked-fiddle are easy to embrace. Given the instrument's sonorities, it's only natural that it would evoke images associated with Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

Think drones, ululations, and supplications and you're on your way to envisioning the sound character of “Incantation,” a ravishing introduction to this entrancing set. The duo give new meaning to the words close listening, with each attending to the other's playing with the utmost concentration. One player often echoes the other's melody; at other times, one builds upon a statement made by the other to take the material to an unexpected yet nevertheless natural place. Each amplifies the emotionalism of the other, such that as the music builds in intensity, both contribute equally to the escalation. Rhythm is a major component of these performances, too, as the two regularly execute the music's syncopated pulses with impassioned fervour.

All six pieces naturally share certain properties, yet there are differences, too. Particularly affecting are “Ascent,” whose every supplicating pore exudes yearning, and “Solitude,” which conveys sorrow with heartfelt conviction. One comes away from this debut awed by how deeply connected the musicians are, and the fact that the album was recorded live with no editing makes the accomplishment all the more impressive. If ever a set of musical performances warranted the word communion, it's this one.

December 2017