Fricke's Picks: String Dreams

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By itself, the first disc of the two-CD set Open Strings: 1920s Middle Eastern Recordings/New Responses (Honest Jon's) is an essential trip: torrid improvisations by local oud and violin masters such as Nechat Bey, Sami Chawa and Abdul Hussein Khan Shahnazi, recorded by EMI in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, nearly 90 years ago. What is now casually dubbed freak folk was then the highest classical music. The performances are terse (they had to fit on a 78-rpm disc), but the cumulative effect is an intimate rising rhapsody. The rest of Open Strings is original modal "responses" to that virtuosity by devotees such as Sir Richard Bishop (ex-Sun City Girls), Six Organs of Admittance (a.k.a. Ben Chasny) and Scenic's Bruce Licher, all stars in their underground and all walking in the shadows of giants.