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Vas: Offerings

A world-beat duo produces a beguiling original recording that features both ancient spiritual mystique and contemporary edge.

By Derk Richardson

Narada; 4650 Port Washington Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53212; (414) 961-8350

Making up a language of one's own could easily come across as either child's play or vain artistic pretense. But in the case of singer Azam Ali, who was born in Iran, raised in India, and transplanted to Los Angeles, the use of personal vocalese serves to evoke a sense of myth and mystery perfectly suited to the musical hybrid she and percussionist Gregg Ellis create as the world-beat duo Vas. Ali's voice is free to float like a shape-shifting cloud above the rhythms of tabla, dumbek, frame drum, bells, and gongs—and the listener is free to experience whatever emotional associations arise. The modal melodies, polyrhythmic beats, and instrumental textures of Offerings, the duo's follow-up to 1997's widely acclaimed Sunyata, may be rooted in Persian and Indian music, but Ali (who also plays hammered dulcimer, psaltry, tanpura, and frame drum) and Ellis successfully conjure transcultural sensations of enchantment and rapture. They escape the blandifying trend so evident in "fusion" music today, and come up with beguiling original music that features both an ancient spiritual mystique and a contemporary edge.

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