Vinyl Corner : Rüstəm Quliyev ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For the latest instalment in the series, we’re checking out a new compilation from Swiss archival institution Bongo Joe.

The Music:

Although ‘cassette culture’ in the modern sense of the phrase tends to refer to the often rather hollowly sentimental revivalism of the format – the kind of second wind which has seen major-label pop albums pointlessly released on a format which scarcely suits them – cassette culture in the broader sense thrived in many regions of the world long after the Western mainstream had neglected the format. Although that can perhaps most obviously be observed in the fact that many high-charting records release well into the ’00s received semi-mainstream cassette releases in territories such as Indonesia, output of Azerbaijani guitarist Rüstəm Quliyev is also proof of such a phenomenon. Active between 1999 and 2004, his output was relegated solely to the cassette format; his work did not receive CD release despite being produced in an era when tastes in North America and Europe had moved away from tapes and on to that sleeker optical format. That his work initially received such a limited release has perhaps contributed to Quliyev’s relative obscurity outside of his homeland but, now anthologised by Swiss indie outfit Bongo Joe, his work has at last been given a broader platform. His output is instrumental, trading in a modernised, electrified form of traditional Azerbaijani music predicated on taut rhythms and modal soloing. It’s exciting stuff for those with the taste for it and, in collecting together a sampler of work from throughout his short yet productive career, ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’ offers Quliyev’s work to a new audience in a new era.

The Pressing:

When we last covered a Bongo Joe release – ‘Maghreb K7 Club’, offered in conjunction with Sofa Records – we noted how clean its vinyl pressing was. Similarly impressive is the label’s release of ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’; as is increasingly (and frustratingly) common with records pressed by France’s ever-popular MPO – as this one has been – the LP’s surfaces do bear some light yet broad marks, no doubt the result of grubby stampers at the pressing plant. These have no effect upon the unilaterally impressive playback quality – indeed, this is a great sounding record, boasting a minimal noise floor and clean audio – but it does hold back the release’s visual presentation somewhat. Setting that irritating yet ultimately minor concern aside, this is a great pressing in all other respects; the record sits flat on the platter during playback and it feels sturdy in hand, despite being a roughly mid-weight slab of wax.

The Packaging:

A key element of any archival release is context, both in the presentation of its sonic content – that is to say, a sense of cohesion in its music – and in its presentation. The latter is accounted for in ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’s cohesive sonics and the latter is offered in the highly informative liner notes which are included on an insert slipped inside the album’s cover. Boasting scans of Quliyev’s original cassette releases, as well as photos of him and other Azerbaijani musicians, the insert helps to place the album’s music within a wider context, ultimately enhancing its value as an overall package. For that alone, ‘Azerbaijani Gitara’ stands as an impressively presented release, even if its cover – effective though it is – errs on the side of simplicity, constituting a standard-width non-gatefold sleeve made of midweight cardstock. A download code is also included, redeemable through bandcamp in practically any conceivable file type.

Final Thoughts:

‘Azerbaijani Gitara’ offers an intriguing insight into Rüstəm Quliyev’s sonic world and does so with undeniable aplomb. Those intrigued by this singular release would do well to seek it out on vinyl.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!

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