Where Hafez Is Coming From

I hope DJ Fo doesn’t mind me cribbing from his recent KZSU show to mention a couple of notes about Hafez Modirzadeh, who’ll play his blend of Persian scales and jazz dynamics at Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz) on Weds., Oct. 10.

It’s a CD release show for Post-Chromodal Out!, now out on Pi Recordings.

One important point first: The accent is on the third syllable:  MO_deer_ZAH_day.

The other bit of news:  The show will be Modirzadeh and pianist Vijay Iyer playing as a duet — one set only, starting 7:00 p.m. — and it will feature a normally tuned piano. Modirzadeh does promise that they’ll end the show with a tuning surprise, to add a flavor of his system and encourage the audience to “retune” their own thinking, as he put it.

The piano is the part that fascinates me most about Post-Chromodal Out!, just because the sound is so alien. The chords come out warped; they’re the sound of an optical illusion. So, the fact that the whole show won’t use a retuned piano is a little disappointing. Then again, my ears have never fully adjusted to microtonal systems, and while they sound OK to me on horns (some notes sound unexpectedly “off,” but it’s easy to digest), the keyboards have a mildly seasick sound to me.

The Kuumbwa crowds are always warm and friendly, but I don’t know if they’re ready for an hour and a half of that.

Still, the idea of the specially tuned piano fascinates me. Modirzadeh told Fo they’ve been doing the retuning in Iran, to match Persian scales, for a long time, so the process is routine.

Modirzadeh doesn’t use a straight Persian scale, though. The music is based on what he calls “weavings,” a criss-crossing of equal temperament and other culture’s musics (Persian is just one ingredient among many) to produce scales that aren’t necessarily symmetric.

He told Fo he developed this system by “looking outside myself” — by studying the African-American experience (which is crucial to jazz history) and by listening to Flamenco music, of all things, probing its similarities to Persian music. I’ve just started listening to Modrizadeh’s older album Bemsha Alegria, and the Flamenco influence there seems clear.

But back to the piano. Iyer had to rediscover the instrument as he went along, because under the new tuning system, his instincts couldn’t blindly guide him. He learned by playing, reacting to the sounds of his own instrument. I liked Modirzadeh’s description of Iyer allowing himself to be vulnerable by stepping into this process.

The same would be true of other musicians, of course. I think I remember Robert Fripp once saying it takes three years for a musician to truly, properly learn a scale or mode. But with piano, you’ve got those chords. In my head, it seems like an extra layer of things that can go wrong, an n-squared problem. Anyway, I’m impressed.

The interview was great and was accented by Fo’s deep knowledge of world music. You really should check out his Jazz Observer blog.

Modirzadeh has also been interviewed by The World, which produced a 3.5-minute story that includes interview snippets with Iyer.