The Clarion Music Center is one of those tiny storefronts in Chinatown that you can pass by every day without noticing. But if you've recently bought a Tibetan singing bowl or an Australian didgeridoo, you're likely quite familiar with this store. Besides hawking gear ranging from kotos to African shakeres, the Clarion also hosts a series of Friday night world music concerts, presenting musicians from Japan, China, India, and, well, all over the world. The musicians are often stars in their respective genres, nationally known in their native lands. Not surprisingly, the series has been an unqualified success since it was launched in 1997.
One native star is Rahman Asadollahi, a virtuoso on the garmon (Azerbaijani accordion), a smaller, sweeter-toned version of the European model. Born in Iran, he was known as the master of the accordion for almost two decades until he was exiled to Germany for his political beliefs in 1985.
His music has a dreamlike quality, blending Middle Eastern rhythms with a European melodic structure to create a sound unlike anything common to Western ears. Most songs are slow and mournful, with drawn-out notes that tremble with emotion. The harmonica-like sound of the garmon is echoed by piano and other instruments, in tandem with the staccato beat of the nagara, a high-pitched drum.
Anyone who thinks the accordion's possibilities are limited to German polkas and Mexican rancheras should spend some quality time with Rahman's new CD, Ana, on which he's accompanied by the Orchestra of Azerbaijani Folkloric Music. Despite a bout with cancer of the jaw that has left Rahman physically afflicted, his playing is undiminished.