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Review: Ali Akbar Moradi in Concert at Elebash Recital Hall

Love, spirituality, intoxication with the divine and the power of music were all channeled through ancient, basic instruments at Ali Akbar Moradi’s concert on Wednesday night at Elebash Recital Hall at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “Instead of bringing a clergyman to direct me toward God,” he sang, “bring me a musician.” The concert was part of Live@365, a world-music series at the center.

Mr. Moradi is a Kurd who lives in Iran. He preserves and extends traditional music of the Yarsan culture of Kurdistan that dates back at least a thousand years: love songs infused with mysticism, tunes and improvisations that accompany trance ceremonies, ancient epic poems and his own compositions. His music is rooted in traditional Kurdish maqams, the melodic modes of classical Arabic and Middle Eastern music as he learned them locally; he sings in the Kurdish dialect of his own region of western Iran. The concert featured two extended, diverse suites — one concentrating on Mr. Moradi’s own pieces, one drawing on older traditional material — with a mournful love song as an encore.

Mr. Moradi’s instrument is the tanbour, a Persian two-stringed fretted lute with a long neck and a range similar to a banjo. With one string providing a drone, everything else rides on a single string of the tanbour, and in Mr. Moradi’s hands, that string encompasses an expressive universe.

Mr. Moradi uses that string for formal, declamatory melodies and little twangy asides; for insistent trills and jabbing repeated notes; for high-speed sprints and shimmering, fluttering attacks picked lightly and quickly with all his fingers rolling across the string. Plucking in various spots on the instrument, he made the tanbour’s tone throaty like a sitar, rounded like a dulcimer, pointed like an oud. As he set out melodies and extended them, the improvisations became conversations between multiple characters: brusque, delicate, introspective, teasing, flamboyant.

Mr. Moradi was accompanied by his son Kourosh Moradi, on tombak (a goblet-shaped drum), daf (a large, low, tambourine-like frame drum) or a second tanbour. Dance rhythms, often in odd meters, coalesced behind the tanbour melodies for unobtrusive but vigorous support; it was easy to imagine the music propelling trance rituals. When Ali Akbar Moradi sang — occasionally joined by his son — his voice arrived like an emanation from the tanbour melodies, doubling them and then hovering above them with long-breathed turns and quavers, a modest croon intent on the song rather than the singer. He was holding on to music from a particular place and culture within a turbulent region. During a pause in the concert, an audience member started a chant about Kurdistan; Mr. Moradi gazed calmly from the stage. “Life for everybody,” he said.