Album review: Eclectic sounds from Iran’s Quartet Diminished

Station One is a fascinating mix of jazz-rock, folk, Oriental jazz and 1970s-influenced psychedelia.

Quartet Diminished's latest album, Station One.
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Quartet Diminished are a band keen on tackling different genres and musical styles.

Formed in Tehran in 2012 by the quartet's guitarist, Ehsan Sadigh, they released Station One earlier this year and are now presenting it on a European tour. It's a fascinating mix of jazz-rock, folk, Oriental jazz and 1970s-influenced psychedelia.

A good example of how this works is the track, Yelemsi. Jagged riffs from the guitar introduce the piece, while in the middle-section, the soprano saxophone and the drums sound like the fast part of a Persian traditional musical suite.

The name of the group refers to differences in pitches between western and Oriental tuning, and the band sometimes purposefully move between the two.

Another of the album's tracks, Tehran, is an ode to and a nightmarish evocation of the musicians' hectic but also vibrant capital. The song mixes delicate sounds that reflect the legendary splendour of the city, along with growling clusters that mirror the industrial noises of a crowded metropolis.

In the opening track, Allegro Per Il Re, we hear a bass clarinet reminiscent of jazz-giant Eric Dolphy, and Miles Davis 1970s experimentalism, as well as the use of this instrument by Richard Wagner or Sergei Prokofjiev, expressing a sometimes brooding, sometimes melancholy mood.

It is such moods that Quartet Diminished explores, but they then swiftly rock everything up again with guitar and drums. The band also easily switches from high-energy jazz-rock to the delicate voice of pianist Mazyar Younesi, who pays tribute to the classical Iranian singing tradition. Then it diverts to free-jazz-like improvisation, while closing with just a simple beautiful duet between guitar and saxophone in the track Act VII.

The album appears on the Iranian label, Hermes Records, known for its adventurous high-quality recordings. These range from renowned classical Persian music masters, 20th century Iranian music in the western classical tradition and art-rock.

Neil van der Linden curates music events in the Middle East and North Africa, is editor of the online Gulf Art Guide and writes about Middle East music for Songlines.