Nine Heavens:

“Last year, during a conversation with Azam Ali, Niyaz lead singer, Ali mentioned her three-piece Persian electronica outfit, which includes multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian and producer Carmen Rizzo was contemplating a double-disc for their sophomore release. One year and two discs later — one disc entirely acoustic, the other featuring the same songs tinkered and fueled by Rizzo’s exceptional digitalism — Niyaz further pushes the boundaries they began breaking with their 2005 debut. Ali, former vocalist of Vas, is used to groundbreaking circumstances — she has continually redefined the classical Persian, Urdu and even Baroque canons with tasteful flourishes of modernity. This process did not see full fruition until joining forces with the two men by her side. A boggling array of percussion, Torkian’s masterful playing on a variety of stringed instruments (guitar, viol, saz, rabab), Rizzo’s poignant ear for tasteful beats, and the centerpiece — Ali’s gorgeous vocals — keep this band on top of their game as the Persian world’s most inventive and courageous band.” – Derek Beres – Conscious Choice Magazine

“If there was an award for the classiest album of the year, then this one would definitely be a front runner. A hugely original album that fuses a number of genres together, it features songs loaded with classy hooks and driven by beautiful melodies. The influences on the album range from Sufi poetry to haunting Indian sounds to booming Middle-Eastern melodies. A hidden gem in a sea of decidedly ordinary world music album, it has enough commercial appeal to keep the listener interested until the end, and it gets better the more times you play it. Add this album to your collection- it is definitely worth it.” – Lucky Singh – Eastern Eye-London

“Azam Ali, Loga Ramin Torkian and Carmen Rizzo are again romancing the divine with their second album, the two-disc “Nine Heavens.” Disc one tenders the recognizable Niyaz vibe, a mesmerizing fusion of Urdu and Persian mystical poetry and remarkably consonant electronica in support of Ali’s beguiling vocals. Disc two reshuffles the tunes on disc one, presenting them in acoustic versions that are every bit as gripping as their counterparts. Disc one opens with “Beni Beni,” a riveting take on a poem by Turkish Sufi poet Ashik Dertli. “Molk-E-Divan” is quintessentially Niyaz: brilliant programming, gorgeous lutes and Ali singing a 13th-century Persian poem with a longing that’s profoundly moving. On Disc two, note “Feraghi—Song of Exile,” a traditional Iranian folk song. The five-beat rhythm enhances the exoticism of the insistent percussion and Ali’s deftly shaded vocal.” – Philip Van Vleck – Billboard

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“I managed to miss out on Niyaz’s 2005 first album, and given how stirring their new Nine Heavens is, perhaps I should do some backtracking. But first a few more words about Nine Heavens (to be released on June 24th): it’s rooted, as an increasing number of musical projects seem to be nowadays, in the mystical poetry of Sufism. With the great mystic poet Rumi getting his due all over the place, Niyaz (comprised of Persian-American vocalist Azam Ali, multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian and producer/programmer/keyboard player Carmen Rizzo) instead turn their attention toward 13th century mystic Amir Khosrau Dehlavi, said to have invented the qawwali devotional music popularized by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and the ghazal styled 18th century poems of Khwaja Mir Dard and Hali.

The source material is reflective of Niyaz’s blending of Persian and Indian (and on this disc, a shade of Turkish) musical sensibilities, a connection apparent in cross-cultural similarities that are centuries old and here musically beautified with the same sort of passion that inspired those ancient mystics.

The most immediately striking thing about the album is Ali’s voice: her angelic, ghostly tones (which have served her well on previous solo projects and her work as half of the duo Vas) are at their strongest here and it doesn’t take long to realize how much of that strength is brought to the fore through a rich weave of string, percussion and wind instruments emboldened with cavernous modern production. It’s marvelous stuff, seeming to yearn for something just out of reach and yet grabbing hold of a spiritual clarity that’s alternately revving and calming. And the musical/cultural duality at work here is manifested in the way the songs are presented as well: there’s a second disc featuring nearly every track (minus, unfortunately, the trembling lullaby ³Iman²) performed acoustically. But that doesn’t mean they’re subdued or lessened. Indeed, the acoustic versions are every bit as thunderous a combination of possessed dance rhythms and inward meditation as their plugged-in counterparts, and the seamlessness of the Persian/Indian fusion is even more striking. Highly recommended.”

World Music Central by Tom Orr
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