Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Turntable Dervish

MERCAN DEDE
Sufi Traveler
Mi5

New age music is a good idea in theory that usually fails in brute fact. You needn't subscribe to the notion that Gaia has embarked upon an evolutionary journey to Never Never Land to see how it might be nice for musicians to try and evoke the spirit of some such utopia. Only then you stretchout on the massage table, and your flesh starts crawling from the ears down.

Sufism, generally the most progressive and music-friendly of Islam's subvariants, differs widely from region to region and sheikh to sheikh--Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a Sufi, and so is Youssou N'Dour. The most prominent Sufi musician in the mode explored here by the Turkish-born Montreal DJ Mercan Dede is the Istanbul psychologist-musicologist Oruj Guvenc, who claims healing properties for the compositions he's rediscovered. This double CD isn't quite transcendent, and it's marred by a few distracting spoken-word bits. But over a chilly groove defined by indigenous percussion, its melodic mix of reed flute, voice, and electronics is calming, not dulling, splitting the difference between trance and restorative sleep. It gets right with Allah as peacefully as you could hope--no gateway to a new age, just a respite from the old one.

Tracks, Dec. 2004-Jan. 2005