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Released Oct. 13 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Nowruz, the debut album from the Aga Khan Master Musicians (AKMM) co-produced by Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music Theodore Levin, is making waves among critics in the realm of contemporary tradition-based music. Writing for Bandcamp Daily, reviewer James Gui named the recording among the best folk music on Bandcamp in October 2023. Writes Gui, "the borderless virtuosity that the Aga Khan Master Musicians bring to the table is undeniable."
For World Music Central, Angel Romero y Ruiz praises Norwuz, a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the Aga Khan Music Programme, for which Levin is Senior Advisor, as "superb," "extraordinary," a "splendid fusion of contemporary sounds infused with the richness of age-old musical traditions" and a "testament to the musicians' unrestrained creative exploration."
Mike Adcock, in RootsWorld Magazine, concludes that "the recording is first-rate and the playing by these excellent musicians is hard to fault." Living up to the ensemble's name, he writes, the Aga Khan Master Musicians "display a high level of musicianship, presenting coherent collaborative performances which belie the fact that they emanate from a range of musical backgrounds."
And for Qantara.de, Richard Marcus commends the album's solo numbers ("each....a beautiful example of the artist's chosen instrument and testimony to their virtuosity") as well as the tracks involving the entire ensemble. "Not only do they each serve to demonstrate how the various instruments and musical backgrounds create a new whole, but they are also incredible pieces of music in their own right....While intent is always important, it's no guarantee of artistic merit. On Nowruz we are given an example of both in perfect synthesis."
Levin, in a promotional feature for the Smithsonian's Folklife Magazine, offers a behind-the-scenes appreciation of the artists' cross-cultural collaboration. "AKMM's mash-up of musical styles and instruments may suggest that Nowruz represents 'fusion music' or a cross-cultural jam session, but the group's work goes deeper than that," writes Levin. "At its root, it's an experiment in musical pluralism in which each artist approaches the music of their fellow band members with an eagerness to embrace new sounds and sentiments and, in so doing, expand their own musical world. AKMM's fervent hope for their music is that it will encourage others to seek out their own path to pluralism by learning to savor the music of other times, places, and cultures and what it has to tell us about our collective humanity."
Nowruz continues decades of collaboration between Levin and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, for which he produced the Grammy-nominated 10-volume Music of Central Asia anthology and the double CD The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan, as well as albums of field and studio recordings from Bosnia, Tuva, southern Siberia (Tuva and Sakha), Uzbekistan, the Soviet Union, the Bukharan Jewish diaspora in New York City, and Franco-American northern New England.
Nowruz is available for purchase on the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website, and you can find it on all music streaming platforms.