For more than a decade, Kronos Quartet has championed the dramatic and deeply passionate work of Azerbaijani composer and pianist Franghiz Ali-Zadeh. This maverick artist defied the strictures of the classical training she received in her formerly Soviet-occupied home-land to combine ideas gleaned from the 20th century music of the west with the long-neglected Azerbiajiani tradition of mugam. The album title Mugam Sayagi means "in the style of mugam," and that aptly describes the three commissioned pieces Ali-Zadeh wrote for Kronos Quartet.
Franghiz Ali-Zadeh is equally at home in the world of Western moderns and the culture of her homeland, Azerbaijan. The disc's title means "in the style of mugam," a sophisticated, emotional form of traditional music and poetry. The first piece, Oasis, begins in mystery, with the sound of dripping water, and builds to a dreamland of turbulent, slashing strings and shimmering chords: a mirage universe in its concentrated 13-minute span. The composer is at the piano for her Apsheron Quintet, whose 2nd movement is a gorgeous otherworldly evocation. Music for Piano is a solo exploration notable for turning the middle register of the instrument into a stand-in for the "tar," a brilliant-sounding lute-like instrument. Finally, Mugam Sayagi is a string quartet that discreetly incorporates a drone, synthesizer, and local instruments. It features a mournfully moving opening section and odd juxtapositions such as innocent folk dances instantly turning into aggressive battle music. Ali-Zadeh is a composer with much to say who says it well, aptly partnered by the committed playing of the Kronos Quartet, which gives us another of its many stimulating discs. --Dan Davis