May 2005

Reza - Ray of the Wine
Hen House Studios
Released: 2005
Format: CD

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Musician and painter Reza Derakshani was born in Tehran in 1952 and lived in New York for 20 years. He met Doors drummer John Densmore a few years ago at a conference in Wisconsin and asked the American musician to help him bring his music to a broader audience. Reza, a virtuoso on several traditional Middle Eastern instruments, has played with Branford Marsalis, cellist David Darling, and Madonna. Thus, he is no stranger to Western music, but Ray of the Wine doesn’t bury his ancient, exotic sounds in a pop-music mush. Densmore has used restraint and taste in helping Reza translate his music into something we can understand, and he has done it without sacrificing its cultural roots.

Reza plays several string instruments (tar, sitar, kamanche) and a reed called a ney. He bases many of his songs on classic Persian verse and sings them in a hypnotic voice that is beautiful and, by Western standards, unusual. His melismatic embellishments are profoundly moving because they are so sincere and so unlike what we identify as emotion in current pop singing. Yet, there is nothing disconcerting or unsettling about his music. Densmore helps us make the transition easily in some tunes, such as "Mashnavi" and the title tune, but he and the other musicians on the disc never overwhelm Reza’s musical traditions. The most powerful tunes, "I’m Back" and "Heart of Fire," are sparely arranged and show no Western influence.

The sound on Ray of the Wine is stunningly clear and open -- it breathes naturally with the music. The engineer was Harlan Steinberger, whose Hen House Studios records young musicians free in exchange for permission to film them as they work in the studio (go to for the story and a list of recordings). Ray of the Wine would be worthwhile even if it had been badly recorded. As it is, I can assure you won’t regret buying this astonishing, challenging disc.