Lucid Culture


Wild Intense Middle Eastern Grooves from Shusmo

Shusmo’s new cd Mumtastic is pure adrenaline – it’s one of the most exhilarating albums of recent years. Frontman Tareq Abboushi plays long, relentlessly intense, serpentine solos on his buzuq (the Palestinian bouzouki); it’s interesting to hear tenor saxophonist and zurna flutist Lefteris Bournias – a Coltrane/Papasov-class powerhouse- as a sideman rather than centerstage, firing off endless volleys of chromatics like he usually does. There are other bands who sound a little like Shusmo (Arabic for “whatchamacallit”) – the NY Gypsy All-Stars, and psychedelic Greek rockers Annabouboula come to mind – but this group’s sound is different. Abboushi’s concept is to bring a purist, classical sense of melody to Middle Eastern dance music, while bringing danceable rhythms to classical melodies. Some of this is  sort of punk Middle Eastern classical music, some of it is closer to acoustic surf music. Either way, it’s pretty amazing.

The opening cut is the biggest stunner here, a Turkish tune which if you’re sitting down will get you dancing in your seat. It kicks off with a wickedly ominous, catchy hook on Abboushi’s buzuq, with the same kind of ringing resonance as a twelve-string guitar. Bournias’ zurna flutters against the beat, or shadows Abboushi, whose first solo becomes a scorching flurry of doublestops and tremolo-picking. The second track, The Time It Takes sounds like a stately baroque arrangement of an old English folk tune until the chromatics come in, and then the drums, and then they’re off, with a nonchalantly hard-hitting sax solo. Georgina +2 pulses along on a tricky Kurdish rhythm, Dave Phillips’ bass and Zafer Tawil’s percussion trading off and playing against the buzuq, which eventually takes a deliciously long crescendo up. True to its title, Traveling is a cinematic epic, Abboushi’s expansive narrative balanced by Bournias’ bracing, sometimes anguished, nebulously insistent passages.

Samba for Maha, another cinematic one, doesn’t stay samba for very long – it’s something of a neighborhood piece, with dogs barking, surfy drum breaks and moody sax. A trickily rhythmic showcase for Tawil along with drummer Hector Morales, Rasty George segues into the first of a handful of vignettes that slowly fades out. The funky Batayak has a swaying rai-rock vibe and a thicket of lighting tremolo-picking from Abboushi, followed by a brief joujouka interlude with the zurna wailing mournfully. The centerpiece of the album is The Wall, a long, pensively surreal journey that’s the closest thing to jazz here, with an aptly sensitive guest spot by quartertone trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. It’s meant to illustrate the effect of the wall erected in Israeli by anti-Palestinian extremists, to further perpetuate the apartheid that exists there – and yet, some are undeterred by it, others actually managing to enjoy what it leaves in its wake (including the wreckage of Palestinian homes, as much of a playground as you’ll find nearby). With a quiet ache, it reaches for resolution but never finds it.

The album winds up with Pickles, moving once again from European baroque stateliness to a biting Middle Eastern dance and then back again, and the clapalong wedding dance Dal’Ona – the only vocal number here – Bournias finally cutting loose with his most acidically intense solo of the entire session. Shusmo play Joe’s Pub on June 23 at 9:30 PM – if this is your kind of thing, and you’re in town, you’d be crazy to miss them. They’re also at Cornelia St. Cafe at 8:30 on July 7.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Annabouboula’s Immortal Water is Potent Stuff

“Annabouboula” translates roughly from the Greek as “cacaphony,” or in common usage, “brouhaha.” Immortal water is a powerful liquor. So does Annabouboula’s new album sound like a drunken brouhaha? Not really. But it’s definitely a party. The trio of multi-instrumentalists George Sempepos, Chris Lawrence, and chanteuse Anna Paidoussi date back to 1986 when they were signed to Virgin Records and quickly established themselves as one of the era’s most interesting, esoteric bands. They went dormant in the early 90s just as the world-funk sound they’d pioneered began to gain traction. Fast forward to 2010 and a new album: this one sounds sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Chicha Libre, surfy, wryly clever and psychedelic, with Greek lyrics sung powerfully and often hauntingly by Paidoussi.

The opening track, Hello Sailor, is a tour de force: a slinky, haunting levantine vamp contrasting with gently sensual vocals, layers and layers of lead guitar, eerily pointillistic qanun and swooshy string synthesizer. Lilly (The Scandalous Girl) sets the riff from the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now to a Bo Diddley beat, resulting in what sounds like Nancy Sinatra gone to the Mediterranean. There are two versions of the title track: the Brooklyn mix, matching bristling guitar to clubby synthesizer and synth bass textures, and the funkier Smyrna mix. Come Sit on My Sofa, with its Middle Eastern snakecharmer chromatics and acoustic guitar slashing through some oud voicings, evokes Sempepos’ brilliant/obscure Mediterranean surf band the Byzan-Tones.

The most straightforward rock song here is May Day: underneath the 80s textures, there’s a wickedly catchy surf tune threatening to rise up and drench everything in its path. What Do You Care Where I’m From takes a hypnotic turn into dub reggae; The Boat from Turkey slyly blends 80s guitar and synthesized organ textures into a deliciously weird psychedelic web. There’s also the Cretan Hop, which with its bagpipe guitar riffage sounds like Big Country in Greek, the stately, understatedly ominous If You See the Mountains Burning, and a playful, silly introduction to Greek rhythms for western audiences. Oh yeah, did we mention that this is an eclectic band? In lieu of a new album from Chicha Libre, this one will do just fine: look for it on our Best Albums of 2010 list in about a week.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | funk music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment