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ALBUM REVIEW

"Astris": A Musical Odyssey Across Cultures and Time

Jan 29, 2024
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Dive into "Astris", the latest album by Iasi Ensemble, where the mystical meets the musical. A blend of cultures, this album takes us on a journey through sounds that are as complex as they are captivating, with a touch of the divine in every note.
\ We recently had the chance to immerse ourselves in "Astris", an album that feels like a journey across time and cultures. Right from the start, it's clear this isn't just any music collection. Iasi Ensemble, alongside a talented group of musicians, has crafted something that feels both ancient and modern, foreign and familiar.

The album's title, "Astris", is rooted in Greek mythology, a fitting choice given its blend of Indian Classical, Persian Classical, Sufi, Ancient Greek, and New Age Music. The star-nymph Astris, representing the marriage of different cultures and histories, is mirrored in the way this album intertwines diverse musical traditions. It's a reflection of the world's vast musical landscape, all while maintaining a unique identity.

Starting with "Whirling Desert", we're immediately drawn into the album's mystical ambiance. The poetry of Lalon Farkir, voiced beautifully by Ayu Shi, sets a tone of introspective depth. The blend of Sitar, Turkish Rebab, and Didgeridoo under Psarakis' skilled hands is nothing short of mesmerizing.

"Dancing with the Unknown" takes a turn towards the more experimental, inviting listeners into a realm of self-exploration and transformation. The simplicity of this track, mainly featuring Esraj and Sitar, offers a peaceful interlude, reflecting the album's theme of unity in diversity.

"Symphony of Soil" and "Symphony of Wind", both inspired by Raag Kirwani, showcase the album's range. The former, with its moving lyrics translated from Sorani, touches on the intuitive journey of the heart. The latter, a more contemplative piece, evokes feelings of nostalgia and separation, a testament to the power of music to convey emotion.

"Summer to Rain" is a serene and introspective track, taking its cues from Raag Bairagi. The musical interpretation of the themes of detachment and the cyclical nature of life is both thoughtful and soothing. The Esraj and Sitar work in harmony, creating a sound that's as calming as it is profound.

"Sea of Fire", with lyrics from Persian poetry sung in Urdu, brings a different flavor to the album. Rituparna Banerjee's vocals are striking, carrying the emotion of Hafez's words with a soulful depth. The blend of Sitar, Esraj, and Bulgari with the Ney creates a soundscape that's rich and complex.

"Lake of the Heart", though shorter, doesn't skimp on impact. It serves as a reminder of love's universal presence, a theme that's subtly woven throughout the album. The simplicity here is its strength, allowing the message to resonate more deeply.

The title track, "Astris", is a masterpiece. It's a musical embodiment of Astris' symbolic fusion of universes. The integration of Raag Gunkali adds layers of devotion and compassion, making it a standout piece in the album.

"Dark Cloud", the longest track, is an experimental exploration of Raag Bhairavi. It's ambitious and bold, encapsulating a range of emotions from devotion to romance and courage. This piece, especially, showcases the ensemble's ability to blend traditional and modern elements seamlessly.

Finally, "Panchagni (The 5 fires)" explores the concept of fire in ancient Indian scriptures. Each aspect of fire is represented musically, creating a piece that's as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable. Illa Ma's vocals add a special touch to this already powerful composition.

The musicianship throughout "Astris" is exceptional. Iasonas Psarakis, not just a composer but a multi-instrumentalist, brings a depth to each track that's hard to ignore. Nikolas Gkinis' production and arrangement skills are evident in the way each piece flows into the next. The diverse range of instruments, from the Sitar to the Didgeridoo, and the contributions of musicians like Bahram Deyjour and Ricky Chakraborty, all add layers of richness to the album.

What makes "Astris" stand out is its ability to be both a musical experience and a cultural journey. Each track tells a story, not just through lyrics but through the very fabric of its sound. It's a reminder of how music can transcend boundaries, be they geographical, cultural, or temporal.