The terms vanity label or vanity press can carry a connotation of indulgence, even aggrandizement. Were all indulgences as grand as TAK Ensemble’s packaging of Ashkan Behzadi’s music, Mehrdad Jafari’s paintings, and the poetry of Federico García Lorca, however, we might soon excuse the sin of vanity.
The New York City quintet’s new, self-released collection, Love, Crystal and Stone, comes in an attractive brown binder which elegantly houses a CD in a printed paper sleeve and a perfectly bound seventy-six­–page book. Lorca’s poetry is presented in the original Spanish and in Persian, the language in which Behzadi first encountered the verses. Jafari’s figurative paintings sit alongside the text and are nicely varied, with his own style bending to suggest Klimt in one instance, Picasso in another, or a still life or collage. Behzadi’s compositions are haunting and uneven, not in the sense of stumbling between good and bad, but unpredictable in their energy. While not strictly twelve-tone, they bear a resemblance to the work of Second Viennese School composers in their adherence to form within a logic of their own. At times, the music lashes out in bold folklorism, with brash fiddle, quick tapping percussion, and soprano Charlotte Mundy whooping like she’s at a bonfire dance, but it is quick to dissolve into dreamlike imagery, spoken passages and wordless utterances, discordant sweeps, and fragile, ethereal waves.
Even at its home base, TAK is a surprisingly bold ensemble. Their vanity deserves to be rewarded, if only so that we can receive the benefit of more such indulgences.