Monday, April 22, 2024

Astris by Iasi Ensemble




Iasi Ensemble

Written by

Andy Rogers


World Music as a genre continues to explore new musical territories and open minds as never before. This exciting debut album from Iasi Ensemble continues to do just that with some style. Iasi means “healing”, and the ensemble says that it “hopes to soothe the souls of people with their unique blend of music”. 

The album features musicians from India, Iran, Kurdistan and Greece and as a result the music is an exhilarating blend of instruments and voices from the different countries involved. At times reminiscent of Indian classical music, at others it sounds like it came out of Bollywood… all this is suffused with middle-eastern influences from Iran and Kurdistan alongside synths and more from Greece… add to the mix some throat singing and a dash of didgeridoo and you see that this is an extraordinary collection of songs! 

We start with Whirling Desert: the sound of cicadas and a low synth sets the scene before an entrancing Indian vocal leads us into the song with the band playing sitar, tabla, tanbour and much more. Fans of such bands as Suns of Arqa will find much to love here.    

The two shorter tracks Dancing with the Unknown & Lake of the Heart sound very like things George Harrison would have done with The Beatles – think “Within You Without You” from Sergeant Pepper and you get the idea!

Symphony of Soil and Symphony of Wind are two tracks played back to back and very similar in style. The first stays mid-tempo throughout and features emotive vocals, the second is more like an Indian Raga – instrumental all through, it is beautifully played by all with a build in tempo; slow at the start building to a wonderfully colourful and musically dramatic finish.

Summer to Rain, the next track on the album, is a slow reflective piece. A steady drone underlays some vibrant sitar work before the piece ends on a rather atmospheric note.

Next we have Sea of Fire, a peel of wind-chimes introduces another exquisite Indian vocal before the music assumes a more Middle-Eastern feel as the tabla and other instruments join… the whole piece has a sad and melancholy feel as the vocalist holds long notes over an increasingly lively backing before the track ends on the sound of a rain-stick.

Astris the title track is a wonderful instrumental and possibly my personal favourite on the album… again, wind-chimes start the track followed by some very nice interplay between sitar and wind instruments which leads into a section featuring bass guitar, percussion and more. Eventually a clash of cymbals marks the start of the end section with sitar and tabla to the fore.

Dark Cloud is the longest track on the album at 31 minutes. It starts with a long section with Sitar and Digeridoo much to the fore. The lively middle section brings in the Sitar, tanbour and more…The end section returns to the sitar & didgeridoo from the start before a change in tempo heralds the entrance of tabla and more percussion to take us in an ever accelerating whirl to the end of the track.

Following an alternative mix of Whirling Desert we come to the last track on the album, Panchagni (The 5 fires). The sound of a rain-stick leads us into a contemplative mantra-like vocal with sitar and tabla providing an atmospheric backing. A change to mid-tempo heralds a beautiful sitar/tabla/drone section before the vocalist re-joins and the track moves towards the end with a dramatic increase in tempo.

It’s a long album (nearly two hours) but sufficiently full of musical invention to keep you wanting to hear more. Fans of “World Fusion” music will lap this up - It’s an impressive debut album and I one that I hope does really well for them. We can only hope we hear a lot more of Iasi Ensemble in future. 

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