Mohammad Reza Lotfi | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mohammad Reza Lotfi 

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The dearth of Middle Eastern music in America is certainly due in part to our own government's stigmatization of all things Islamic, but in recent decades Islamic culture has turned on itself as well. In Khomeini's Iran, for instance, public performance and distribution of music was almost immediately banned as "anti-Islamic," and artists like Mohammad Reza Lotfi, who in the relatively liberated late 70s had emerged as one of the country's most important composers of Persian classical music, found themselves under the suspicious eye of the fundamentalist state. In 1984, after living in Italy for a couple of years, Lotfi moved to Virginia and has lived and worked in the U.S. ever since. I don't know much about the Persian classical tradition, but what intrigues me is that as in jazz, musicians improvise at length within established structures and forms; the direction a piece takes can depend on anything from the subject at hand (the musician usually chooses a spiritual or historical poem to sing) to the mood of the audience. On Lotfi's recent Mystery of Love (Kereshmeh), on which he plays both tar and setar--twangy, almost nasal-sounding lutelike instruments--his improvisations are marked by serene, often melancholy melodies and complex, rapidly shifting rhythms. Like its Pakistani relative, qawwali (popularized here by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), the music is entrancingly soulful, using subtle rise-and-fall patterns to convey a full slate of emotions. Lotfi will be accompanied by Mohammad Ghavihelm on percussion (tombak and daf) and Abdolnaghi Afsharnia on a type of wooden flute called the ney. Friday, 8:30 PM, Rosemont Convention Center, room 14, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont; 630-435-0311, 847-823-9647, 773-728-3710, or 773-334-0881. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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