at Largo at the Coronet
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Hamid Saeidi: santoor (Persian hammer dulcimer)
Itai Disraeli: bass
M. B. Gordy: ancient percussion
“For their most flamboyant musictakes place/When their wings are stretched/Above the trees/And they are smokingthe opium of pure freedom.”
The words come from the poem by the great Sufi poet Hafiz,who insisted: “The bird’s favorite songs/You do not hear,” but Opium Moon’sGrammy-nominated, self-titled debut album allows this hidden music full flight.At once timeless, ancient but modern, a journey from the heart of fourindividual musicians created in the present moment, ethereal and earthy,multi-ethnic and inclusionary, its five extended tracks defy categorization.
Opium Moon is a fever dream, a once-in-a-lifetimecollaboration seemingly destined to take shape. Its participants come from allover the globe, a veritable world music superstar team. The four principalscohere as a single entity with a fused musical soul -- Iranian santoor maestro Hamid Saeidi, sought-after Israeli bassist Itai Disraeli and wife,Canadian-American violin virtuoso and film composerLili Haydn, along with U.S.-born M. B. Gordy, ago-to percussionist who’s worked with such award-winning movie composers as HansZimmer, Alexandre Desplat, and Marco Beltrami (where he reconnected with Haydn whileworking on a live version of his Oscar-nominated “3:10 to Yuma” score).
Says Haydn: “This is cool on so many levels, but the bestpart is it was done with no thoughts of being commercial in any way.”
“This is not about artists chasing what we think the publicwants,” adds Itai Disraeli, the first Israeli musician ever to be nominated fora Grammy. “To me, the New Age category represents a new era of making musicwithout the constraints of the marketplace, something with lasting value, notjust for today, but the end of time. As artists, it’s our job to offer thepossibilities that can define our future lives.”
OpiumMoonis the perfect reflection of a music that can’t be pigeonholed, debuting onfour separate Billboard charts,including Heatseekers, Classical, Classical Crossover and World Music. As oneAmazon.com admirer put it, “This is World Music from another world.”
NPR Music’s Bob Boilen said, “It’s a rare pleasure to findmusic that gives me pause, slows me down from the daily deluge and gives me amoment to think… Spacious and timeless.” KPCC’s Steve Hochman called it “thesoundtrack to an exotic, hazy, languorous dream, a sensual/spiritual trip intothe mystic,” while Common Ground’s Lloyd Barde raved, “It’s been quite sometime since such a thoroughly enticing, alluring and totally engaging album hascome my way.” ArtNowLA’s Victoria Looseleaf said, simply, “A sublime andsensual brew… that transports the listener to a musically soulful Shangri-La.”
Haydn points out that one of the inspirations for Opium Moon lies in the 1967 iconic album,Call of the Valley, a classic workfeaturing noted Indian musicians Hariprasad Chaurasia and Shivkumar Sharma. “Ialways wanted to make an album that made me feel like that,” she says. “And ithappened organically when I collaborated with these three exquisite musicians.”
The process occurred naturally, starting with a jam sessionfeaturing Lili, Itai and Hamid Saeidi, an acclaimed Iranian musician who wasone of his country’s leading film and TV composers before arriving in the U.S.nine years ago.
“We are not trying to copy anyone,” says Saeidi, only thefourth musician from Iran to ever receive a Grammy nomination. “I’m trying toget connected not just to my soul, what is inside me, but what’s in the soulsof three other people. That’s why it’sboth very free and not so free at the same time. We come from very differentcultures but have found common ground. We trust and respect one another. If someone brings up an idea in the moment, everyone will followthat. There are no egos here.”
M. B. Gordy agreed. “I’m just digging the ensemble aspect,creating a vibe, a mood, telling a story. It’s very sensuous and slinky,transformative. We call it Kama Sutra music. You can do anything you want toit.”
Haydn has released five solo albums, scored 15 feature filmsand collaborated over the years with the likes of Herbie Hancock, GeorgeClinton’s P-Funk, Roger Waters and Sting, as well as performing a memorableversion of “Kashmir,” then touring as the opening act with Jimmy Page andRobert Plant. She recently presented her fourth TED talk, accompanied by a30-person multi-ethnic choir in Kansas City. “I am a man, I will be counted” is the refrain, and it’s one Lili takesvery seriously in these treacherous political times.
“Opium Moon is everything each of us exemplifies in thismusic,” she says. “The freedom, the give-and-take, the respect, the deference,the harmony, the joy, sometimes even the cacophony. We all bring our personal strengths to thismusic. We reinvent ourselves every timewe play it. The whole is just so muchmore than the sum of the parts. We sharethe credit. It’s a communal enterprise, a family affair. We celebrate the fact it doesn’t have atraditional song structure. The record is unpredictable; it goes to places noneof us could have imagined, borne of our willingness to channel and be led byour collective muse, while not suffering the tyranny of song.”
Indeed, the unexpected Grammy nomination has now offeredvalidation for that creative risk and somehow encouraged them to continue onthis path.
“This was a huge sign for me,” says Saeidi. “It came at atime when I was questioning myself and had doubt. But this offers affirmation for themodern-day generation of Iranian musicians to break away from the traditional,and to experiment.”
For Haydn, the Grammy nomination allows her to pay tributeto her late mother, Lotus Weinstock, the first female comic to headline theComedy Store, a contemporary of Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Maher, whonever achieved mainstream recognition, but served as a spiritual role model forsimilar characters in The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel and I’m Dying Up Here.
“I learned early on that talentdidn’t necessarily equate to success,” says Lili. “My mom once told me, ‘Theonly thing that’s fair is between you and your creation.’ This music is soauthentic and pure, played straight from the heart, that I can listen to it andforget that it’s me. It’s soul-edifyingto have something like this be recognized. I’m sure my mom is kvellingfrom heaven.”
“To be acknowledged like this sends a powerful message,”concludes Itai, “Both for us as individuals, and everyone who listens to thisalbum, that real music played from the heart in freedom, creates something bothtimeless and yet happening in the now, and points the way to a more inclusive,loving future.”
Opium Moon. Worldmusic from another world which just might change history.