on 22 February 2005
Azam Ali interprets Medieval songs from the 12th - 14th century with astonishing beauty, grace, and haunting vocals. Spine-tingling sensations arise when first hearing her voice. She captivates one's spirit with every track, whether the song is from Provencal, France, or a Sephardic Judeo-Spanish tune, or a 12th Century Latin chant. Her voice is clear, fresh, pure and other-worldly. Accompanying her voice are ancient instruments, the duduk, a hurdy-gurdy, and hammered dulcimer, on track #1. Track #2 is a classic Meditarranean melody from Spain, the Arabic flavor is obvious with instruments such as the oud and percussives. They provide an exotic Middle Eastern influence.
Track #4 begins with the tone of bells, simple, stark and meditative, next follows the Latin words of the German mystic, Hildegard von Bingen. Her spirituality permeates every atom of one's being ... Track #5 called "Cantiga" is about a miracle - how the Virgin Mary restored the sight of a goldsmith who became blind. The instruments are, cello, oud, and unusual ones, difficult to spell and pronounce, however the music is exotic and melodic, you begin chanting along with the singer ... Another very memorable track is #6, which is a 12th century Latin high-church hymn. Written by a French philosopher, the blend of voice and instrumentation is indescribable. However, there is an underlying sadness to the chanting vocals. If we are to believe the liner notes, some unspeakable tragedy occured to the author/composer of this hymn after he fell in love with the daughter of a nobleman. His unsanctioned love was punished by the father of the young lady. This CD is highly evocative and spiritual - it is unusual, exotic, and haunting. It is a rare modern interpretation of ancient songs and chants. The CD is valuable beyond description. Erika Borsos (bakonyvilla)
on 19 April 2006
If words could describe the ethereal beauty of Azam's voice and the songs presented on this album, I would try with "stunning", "breath-taking, "magical", and such. But alas, words are weak and they do Azam injustice. Buy this album, even if you have to go hungry tomorrow.
on 17 December 2004
Azam Ali is the singer in Vas, where she is joined by Greg Ellis on percussion. I was hooked the first time I heard Vas - their sound managing to strike a tone similar to some of Dead Can Dance's music. Dark, soulful, beautiful music - a soundscape of haunting vocals and hypnotic percussion, it truly defies categorisation. To call it 'new age music', as some people do, does a great injustice to Vas - it is so much more than this.
When I heard that Azam Ali was to release a solo album I was intrigued, and bought it as soon as it was released. 'Portals of Grace', although officially a solo outing, features Greg Ellis' distinctive percussion, which gives the album something of a 'Vas feel'. It IS different from previous Vas recordings, however, as Azam Ali here approaches an eclectic collection of traditional European songs from the middle-ages - a style of music that has inspired her enormously. The result is a joy to hear - 'Portals of Grace' truly is a masterpiece.
As far comparisons go, all I can say is that anyone who enjoys Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard, or Loreena McKennitt will in all likelihood enjoy this album enormously - although it must be said that Azam Ali is a unique recording artist and has created a sound truly her own (along with Greg Ellis). Also, don't miss Vas's greatest album, 'In the Garden of Souls' - and for those who appreciate the percussion of Greg Ellis, he has also recorded a solo-album called 'Kala Rupa' that contains some strong material (including vocals by Azam Ali!).
on 1 July 2002
I have all the albums from "VAS" and I must say that I've never heard anything like Azam's voice. Until VAS, on top of my chart was Lisa Gerrard and Sussan Deihim ,but now I have found Paradise on Earth and it's called "Azam's voice"! Her 1st solo album is absolutely necessary for all of the " World " (and not only)music fans! Greetings from Bulgaria!
on 23 September 2010
As someone who discovered this work by accident, I found Portals of Grace to be a fresh interpretation of medieval European Music. Azam Ali's voice fits well with the theme, and dare I say, so does her accent. The choice of tracks is geographically well spread, meaning it never gets repetitive or predictable.
Now, this Oriental-flavored CD isn't what you'd call an accurate representation of Medieval Songs as they were originally created. For that you'd probably be better off with some of Jordi Savall's works. Also, if you've heard this sort of Music before - Azam and Vas are certainly not the first ones to try it - it might feel like more of the same.
As for me, I loved it.