Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Maqamfest – 2012’s Best Concert So Far

The first weekend after New Year’s in New York is the booking agents’ convention a.k.a. APAP, and most of the shows put on for conventiongoers are also open to the public. Because the artists performing are all auditioning for at least theoretically lucrative gigs, they’re usually at the top of their game. As a result, some of the year’s most extraordinary bills, and extraordinary performances, happen here, and this past weekend was no exception. While Winter Jazzfest on Saturday night and then Globalfest on Sunday – both part of the convention – had their moments, the best show of the weekend was the first annual Maqamfest at Alwan for the Arts.

The maqam trail, with its otherworldly microtones and eerie chromatics, stretches from northern Africa to central Asia, and across the Mediterranean to the Balkans. In a spectacularly successful attempt to cover as much ground as possible, the organizers assembled a diverse program including music from but not limited to Egypt, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and many points in between. Organizer Sami Abu Shumays – virtuoso violinist and leader of the first act on the bill, Zikrayat – took care to point out that while each group drew on centuries, maybe millennia of tradition, each added their own individual vision to the music. Middle Eastern cultures don’t typically differentiate between classical, and folk, and pop music as westerners do, anyway: over there, music is music, pure and simple.

In introducing the program, what Shumays omitted, maybe out of modesty, is that the players on the bill were not only some of the most important and creative Middle Eastern musicians outside the Middle East: they’re some of the most important and creative Middle Eastern musicians anywhere in the world. They make their home at Alwan for the Arts downtown, where a vital, cutting-edge scene has evolved. What the Paris salons of a hundred years ago were for classical, the 52nd Street clubs were for jazz in the forties and fifties and what CBGB was for punk rock in the 70s, Alwan for the Arts is for music from the Middle East now. Unsurprisingly, the acts on the bill each brought classical purism, jazzlike improvisation and some punk rock fearlessness too.

The most traditionally-oriented group was Safaafir. A trio led by Alwan music honcho Amir ElSaffar and his sister Dena (virtuoso of the jowza fiddle and leader of the considerably different but equally exciting Salaam), Safaafir play hypnotically rhythmic, centuries-old Iraqi court music and folk songs. The band name means “coppersmiths” in Persian, which is fitting because that’s what the ElSaffars’ grandparents, and their parents before them, did in the Baghdad marketplace. For all the stateliness and split-second precision of the music, Safaafir gave it a jolt of energy, sometimes with a bounce, sometimes with an insistent attack courtesy of percussionist Tim Moore, locked in with the graceful arcs of the fiddle and Amir ElSaffar’s precise lines on santoor dulcimer (and also occasional, unaffectedly exuberant trumpet). Some of the songs had a trancelike, Indian tinge while others allusively referenced modes from the other side of the Euphrates.

The most western-sounding performance was by Gaida and her band. Many of the musicians on the program made multiple appearances, Amir ElSaffar playing torchy muted trumpet in this group along with the night’s most popular musician, buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, with George Dulin on piano, Jennifer Vincent on bass, Zafer Tawil on oud and Hector Morales on percussion. The Syrian-born chanteuse has a minutely nuanced, warmly breathy delivery that looks back to iconic singers like Fairouz and Warda; like many of the instrumentalists over the course of the evening, she began a couple of songs with quietly spectacular, microtonally melismatic improvisations. Behind her, the band shifted effortlessly from bossa nova, to urbane saloon jazz, to vintage habibi singalongs and the most dramatic, impactful number in her all-too-brief set, a darkly apprehensive piano-driven ballad that evoked the more ambitious cross-pollinations of legendary Lebanese songwriters the Rahbani Brothers forty years ago.

The set that was the most cinematic (which happens to be the title of the band’s latest album) was delivered by Zikrayat (Arabic for “memories”). Their speciality is classic Egyptian film music from the 50s and 60s, along with originals that update this lush, slinky genre. This particular incarnation of the band featured Shumays accompanied by Abboushi, ney flute player Bridget Robbins, bassist Apostolis Sideris and percussionists Johnny Farraj and Faisal Zedan. Meanwhile, a trio of bellydancers twirled and dipped in front of them, managing to pull off a neatly choreographed balancing act without anyone in the tightly packed, sold-out crowd getting bumped. Through a trickily shapeshifting Mohammed Abdel Wahab mini-epic, a fetching Umm Kulthumm ballad delivered masterfully by guest singer Salma Habib, and another soulful number featuring young crooner Salah Rajab, the instruments blended voices and wove a magical tapestry of melody over beats that were as slinky as they were hypnotic. At the end, they abruptly switched from plaintive elegance to a stomping, ecstatically rustic, jajouka-ish folk tune that managed to be both ancient yet absolutely modern as it pulsed along with the percussion going full steam.

Maeandros, unlike what their name might imply, don’t meander: their oud-based Greek music is straightforward, soulful and frequently dark. Their connection to the rest of the acts on the bill is that they favor bracing Arabic maqams via music from the underground resistance movement in the 1930s as well as originals with the same kind of edgy intensity. Frontman Mavrothi Kontanis is a world-class oudist and a strong singer who conveys drama and longing without going over the top, but he’s a generous bandleader, leaving the spotlight mostly to violinist Megan Gould – whose pinpoint, precise, microtonal inflections wowed the crowd – along with clarinetist Lefteris Bournias. Bournias may not be a household name in the United States, but he’s one of the most sought-after reedmen in the world, especially in his native Greece, a truly Coltrane/Papasov-class soloist. Predictably, it was his rapidfire, flurrying, judiciously incisive soloing that stole the show, supersonic speed matched to an intuitive feel for where to employ it. The band’s set built an undulating, cosmopolitanally nocturnal ambience much as Zikrayat had done, Kontanis opening one number with a long, achingly crescendoing improvisation and ending the set with a brief, upbeat song featuring some blistering tremolo-picking.

With its funky rock rhythm section and electric bass, Abboushi’s genre-smashing band Shusmo – with Abboushi, Morales, Dave Phillips on bass and Zafer Tawil on percussion – rocked the hardest, covering a vast expanse of sonic terrain, from an understatedly scorching, intense take on an apprehensive Turkish folk melody, to a brief detour into stately western baroque, to hints of jazz, all with a purist, levantine undercurrent. With Bournias’ clarinet salvos bursting out alongside the clank of the buzuq and the hypnotic rhythmic pulse, they evoked another great New York group from ten years earlier, the Dimestore Dance Band, except with Arabic tonalities. Bournias used a long one-chord vamp to cut loose with his most feral, wailing solo of the night, Abboushi also wailing a lot harder than he had as a sideman earlier, particularly through a long, very welcome taqsim where like Bournias, he expertly spun furious clusters of chromatics spaciously and suspensefully, choosing his spots. As the clattering, rumbling grooves shifted unpredictably from funk, to rock, to less predictable tempos and then back again, the intensity was relentless.

The show ended with the Alwan Music Ensemble: Shumays, Abboushi, Farraj, Tawil (now on eerily reverberating qanun), Amir ElSaffar on both trumpet and santoor, George Ziadeh on oud and Cairo Opera star Ahmed Gamal on vocals, making his U.S. debut. It seems that Gamal had other things in mind than the set list Abboushi had come up with: with a little humming and a few cues beforehand, it was amazing to watch the band create a lush arrangement on the spot behind Gamal’s smooth but powerful baritone crooning and breathtaking microtonal inflections (where European opera is all about bombast, Arabic opera is built on subtleties). Gamal sang to the women in the crowd and then got everyone singing and clapping along with a joyous mix of swaying, popular Egyptian standards. Even after more than five hours of music, the crowd was ready for more: as ElSaffar had predicted before the show began, it was impossible to feel tired at this point.

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January 10, 2012 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/20/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #468:

Leila Mourad – Sanatain: Arabian Masters

A star of stage and screen in Egypt in the 1930s and 40s, her career ground to a standstill after the Nasser revolution: Mourad being Jewish probably didn’t help. With an expansive, powerful, soulful voice that these remastered 78s doesn’t adequately capture – like the rest of her contemporaries, she could jam vocalese for hours sometimes – she’s still fondly remembered in the Arab world. This sometimes lushly, sometimes starkly orchestrated compilation is hardly an adequate representation of her career, but her recordings are hard to find outside of the Middle East. This one has the hypnotic, chillingly insistent title track and seven other cuts, most of them clocking in at around three minutes. Because many of these are taken from musicals, there are occasional breaks that only make sense if you speak Arabic and know the source. If you run across anything by her, it’s probably worth owning. Here’s a random torrent.

October 20, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Arabic Orchestra Casts a Spell at Lincoln Center

At their sold-out performance Friday night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the New York Arabic Orchestra reaffirmed their place as one of this era’s most vital New York ensembles. Leader Bassam Saba had played several of the pieces on the program with a small five-piece group a week earlier in Brooklyn. Fleshed out with full string section, ouds, flutes, bass and percussion, the songs took on a lush, epic sweep that was nothing short of transcendent. Saba toured with his countryman Marcel Khalife for two decades: the two composers share a broad, pan-levantine eclecticism and an ability to deliver an emotionally charged wallop. This show did that, but it also played up all kinds of subtleties and unexpected, entertaining flourishes. With the orchestra behind him, multi-instrumentalist Saba could play an entire song on a single one instead of shifting from oud, to flute, to saz and back again like he did at Prospect Park the previous week, giving him the chance to take his time and expand on his often plaintive, poignant themes.

Characteristically, the bill included several Saba compositions as well as vintage Middle Eastern material. Wonderful Land, the title track from his excellent new album, opened with Saba playing a hypnotic solo taqsim (improvisation) on the rustic, clanky Turkish saz lute. Then the orchestra took it aloft on a magic carpet of strings, with a stately call-and-response between the saz and the ensemble, and a graceful solo for the percussion section. Diverse, debonair Lebanese-American singer Naji Youssef joined the group along with a choir for a vocal tune, the baritone crooner’s elegant microtonal inflections contrasting with joyously romping flutes. Then it was back to the instrumentals with two increasingly tricky, polyrhythmic variations on Lebanese folk themes, Saba’s flute front and center. Midway through, a spontaneous clapalong emerged in the crowd.

There were three more vocal numbers (a couple by paradigm-shifting Lebanese songwriters the Rahbani Brothers), one lushly swaying, a couple of them more lighthearted. While in most Middle Eastern dance-pop, the orchestras have been replaced by synthesizers and drum machines, it was heartwarming to hear the roots of those melodies as they were originally written to be played. Saba’s Nirvana, a lavishly memorable suite, featured an arrangement that cleverly shifted voicings among orchestra members, with a biting oud solo against pillowy strings. They closed with a classic Egyptian piece, packed with trick endings, a bracing solo from the first violinist and an even more intense one from Saba, once again on flute. As before, the crowd became an auxiliary percussion section as the piece wound out, and they didn’t miss a beat, all the way through to its playful, cold ending.

The New York Arabic Orchestra are the New York Alliance Française’s artists-in-residence for 2011, with a gala fundraiser coming up in November with Marcel Khalife. The ensemble’s next performance is on September 11 at 7 PM at Merkin Concert Hall, as part of Musicians for Harmony’s 10th Anniversary Concert for Peace.

August 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/5/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #604:

Farid Al-Atrache – 25 Ans Deja

What B.B. King or Richard Thompson are to the guitar, Farid Al-Atrache was to the oud, the ancient Middle Eastern four-string bass lute. B.B. is probably the better comparison: Al-Atrache had supersonic speed on the frets when he felt like cutting loose, but he was more about soul than flash. And he was a lot more than just a musician, with a long career as a star of screwball Egyptian musical comedies. The title of this late-90s compilation alludes to the years since his death. Most of this is lushly orchestrated levantine dance music, many of the tracks, like Adnaytani Bel Hagr and Ich Inta having become a part of the standard bellydance repertoire. There’s also the catchy, upbeat Hebbina Hebbina; the sweepingly majestic Baa Ayez Tensani; and the hits Zaman Ya Hob, Ana Wenta We Bass, Manheremch el Omr and Odta Ya Yom Mawlidi among the eighteen tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via ubdocleahq.

June 5, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 5/19/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #621:

Abdel Halim Hafez – Ala Aal El Shoaa On: Greatest Hits

The iconic Egyptian film music crooner is best known for his anguished, improvisational epics – throughout his almost thirty-year career, from the 50s to the late 70s, he never sang a song the same way twice. The pain in his voice may have had something to do with the fact that he was plagued by a chronic skin condition that eventually killed him at age 47. The fifteen tracks here range from something beyond epic – about 38 minutes of Zay El Hawa (Feels like Love) – to the remarkably brief, five-minute Al Toba. Most of these are iconic in the Arab world, including the Mohammed Abdel Wahab standard Ahwak (I Love You), Sawah (The Wanderer), Gana El Hawa (Love Came to Us), Ouloulu, and the title track, all set to lush, haunting orchestral arrangements. Like so many of his contemporaries, his recordings have been bootlegged to death; we’re suggesting this one because it represents his career well, and actually exists in digital form (many don’t). Here’s a random torrent.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/31/11

If you’re wondering why there hasn’t been more activity here lately, it’s because we’ve been busy behind the scenes putting on some special fabric which, TEPCO assures us, will keep the radioactivity out. Oh yeah – we’ve also been feverishly compiling a new NYC live music calendar for April and May, coming tomorrow along with other stuff. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #670:

Ali Jihad Racy – Ancient Egypt

One of the world’s most extraordinary Middle Eastern musicians, Dr. Racy is a multi-instrumentalist equally skilled on the buzuq (similar to the bouzouki), ney flute, rabab lute and violin, among other instruments. This 1993 suite, based on selections from the Book of the Dead, is both homage to and an attempt to recreate the sounds of the age of the pharaohs. It follows a trajectory from the stark ney piece, The Lamentations of Isis, to the lush, rich jangle and clank of the buzuq and rabab in The Land Of The Blessed. Hymn to Osiris is balmy and otherwordly; The Boat of a Million Years, a ghostly, haunting tone poem, is the centerpiece. Racy follows that with the quiet, dreamy The Holy Lotus (the drug of choice among many around the region in those days) and the self-explanatory Funeral Processsion, which actually isn’t as dark as you might expect. After that, the gloom lifts with Hymn for the Sunrise and The Triumph of the Deceased, ending on an optimistic note. Here’s a random torrent via Like a Raging Bull.

March 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rough Guide to Bellydance: No Bruises, Just Fun

The new second edition of the Rough Guide to Bellydance is just out. In case you might be wondering, it’s not a S&M album, nor is it just an update on the 2002 original: this is a brand-new collection, and like the first one, it’s a gorgeous mix of mostly oldschool, richly orchestrated levantine dance sounds. A lot of these are vamps that hang on a single, hauntingly microtonal mode, or alternate between a couple of them; as with most bellydance tunes, the rhythm is slinky and more straight-up than is often the case in improvisational or operatic Middle Eastern styles. For what it’s worth, the album is being marketed as a workout record: the ancient art of raqs sharqi as aerobics, with a bonus cd (not viewed here) with instruction and several additional musical selections for practicing all the moves. But as much as this is ultimately dance music – mostly of the classical kind – it’s first and foremost for listening. And it’s a mix that’s particularly close to our hearts, as several of New York’s hometown Middle Eastern music stars are represented here.

Violinist Hamouda Ali gets to open it with the catchy, slinky instrumental El Samer, lush strings alternating with ney flute over hypnotic, boomy percussion. Maurice Chedid’s much more modern Ya Samara and Alouli switch back and forth between his trademark oud synthesizer patches, fast and scuttling – he’s pretty much a one-man orchestra. Setrak Sarkissian contributes a ridiculously catchy, subtly accelerating piece for quartertone accordion and orchestra; the Al Ahram Orchestra have two majestic, sweeping tracks here as well, as does Jalilah featuring qanun player Hossam Shaker, the second an unpredictably shapeshifting suite. The epic grandeur reaches a high point with the Cairo Arabic Music Ensemble’s Nesma’t El Nile. There’s also Gizira Band’s accordion-and-strings piece Basbousa (Arabic for “honeycake”); eclectic New York group Sammarkand’s hypnotic, electroacoustic update on a levantine theme; and oud virtuoso Richard Hagopian collaborating with edgy Bulgarian alto saxophonist Yuri Yunakov, the Mehanata house band leader. If you like this, you also ought to check out last year’s Rough Guide to Greek Cafe, which mines the same kind of haunting microtonalities of this one.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Natacha Atlas’ New Album Mounqaliba Hauntingly Captures the State of the World, 2010

The title of Natacha Atlas’ new album Mounqaliba translates literally from the classical Arabic as “in a state of reversal.” In a societal context, it means decline. It’s her reaction to cultural  decay, spirituality displaced by shallow materialism. In many ways this is a scathing and intense album. It’s also a lushly, otherworldly beautiful one, the high point of Atlas’ career. Musically, it follows in the same vein as her previous cd Ana Hina (ranked in the top ten on our best-of-2008 list), a homage to Fairouz blending traditional Middle Eastern songwriting with a sweeping, orchestral grandeur inspired by western classical music. Atlas has always been a good singer, but on Ana Hina she became a great one; here, her gentle, airily nuanced, minutely ornamented, Fairouz-inspired vocals vividly span the range of human emotions from longing to hope to despair. The originals on this album are sung in classical Arabic, co-written by Atlas and her longtime violinist/collaborator Samy Bishai, along with a couple of surprising covers, backed by jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, a 20-piece Turkish ensemble and chamber orchestra.

The album begins with a stark piano instrumental with martial echoes, segueing into the stately sweep of Makaan, Atlas’ vocals both ethereal and eerie over the swell of the orchestra. They follow with the chilly starlit solo piano piece Bada Alfajr and then a carefully enunciated, wary take of the familiar habibi standard Muwashah Ozkourini. In its own towering, expansive way, Atlas’ cover of Nick Drake’s The Riverman maintains the tense, hypnotic, doomed atmosphere of the original but updates it for the 21st century with strings over a repetitive percussion loop. The swaying, atmospheric levantine anthem Batkallim, a scathing denunciation of media and political hypocrisy, opens with a sample of President Obama reminding us that “we live in a time of great tension:” understatement of the century. It’s the high point of the album, pointillistic accordion over funereal strings and a practically trip-hop beat. The understated anguish of Rahman’s piano is viscerally chilling.

The brooding intensity continues with the title track, a Rachmaninovian opening piano taqsim giving way to funeral drums, ney and then a bitter dirge, Atlas’ wounded vocalese contrasting with the somewhat grand guignol atmospherics. Le Cor le Vent is an unselfconsciously anguished blend of vintage French chanson and sweeping 1950s Lebanese art-pop; they follow that with Lazahat Nashwa, an upbeat, percussive levantine dance and then an imaginative, dreamy, orchestrated trip-hop cover of Francoise Hardy’s La Nuit Est Sur la Ville. The album closes with the brief, somberly atmospheric chamber piece Ghoroug, an ominously stampeding dance and then the wistfully orchestrated lullaby Nafourat el Anwar, which ends the album on a surprisingly optimistic note. Count this among the top two or three world music albums of 2010 alongside the forthcoming Roots of Chicha Vol. 2 anthology, and Iraqi expat oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj’s upcoming Little Earth. Natacha Atlas will be on tour a bit later this fall, with a New York appearance at le Poisson Rouge on Nov. 8.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/20/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here (except for #1 this week) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Klezwoods – Cuperlika

Centerpiece of the Balkan/klezmer/Middle Eastern band’s titanicallly good new cd Oy Yeah. Put it up on the web somewhere guys, you’ll sell a lot more records!

2. Serena Jost – Stay

Characteristically stark and compelling solo cello art-rock song from her forthcoming cd.

3. Band of Outsiders – Graveyard

Absolutely off the hook post-Velvets guitar madness, live at the Parkside this year. They’re at Bowery Electric on 9/23 at 10 opening for Richard Lloyd.

4. Ninth House – Down Beneath

Frontman Mark Sinnis was making this video in a cemetery in upstate New York when he noticed that the seemingly random grave he’d chosen to lie on belonged to one Mary Ann Larson, who died on Sinnis’ birthday in 1853. Coincidence? The band play the cd release show for their new one on 9/24 at at UC 87 Lounge, 87 Ludlow St. at 11.

5. Amy Bezunartea – Doubles

Hang with this – it’s worth your 3 minutes. Not your average girl with acoustic guitar, described by her label (Jennifer O’Connor’s project Kiam) as “kind of Joni meets Magnetic Fields” but better. Free download.

6. Zikrayat – Ish-Showq Mihayyarni

Classic obscure 50s Egyptian film music from the movie ‘Aziza’ starring Naima Akif, live at Galapagos last year. The song starts about 1:20 into the clip. They’re at Moustache (Lex and 102nd) at 8 PM on 9/24.

7. The Poludaktulos Orchestra – Rajkos

Brass band intensity – the missing link between Greece and Serbia, with Klezwoods’ amazing guitarist.

8. Gertrude Michael – Sweet Marijuana

Via night of the purple moon – precode movie music from 1934.

9. Amanda Thorpe – River Song

The dodgy sound reflects the crappy venue this was recorded at, but Thorpe’s voice transcends it – a classic that sounds as good as it did a couple of years ago.

10. Los Incas Modernos – Terremoto

An early Peruvian surf band – you can get lost in this stuff on youtube.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | funk music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bassam Saba – Wonderful Land

Truth in advertising: this is a wonderful album, one of the year’s very best. Multi-instrumentalist Bassam Saba leads the New York Arabic Orchestra, arguably America’s most vital large-scale Middle Eastern music ensemble. This is a richly diverse, emotionally resonant collection of original compositions, a tribute to Saba’s native Lebanon. Here the composer plays ney flute, western flutes, saz (Turkish lute), oud, buzuq, bansuri flute and violin, joined by an inspired, virtuosic cast of Megan Gould on violin and viola, William Martina on cello, Peter Slavov on upright bass, and April Centrone and Jamey Haddad on a drum store’s worth of percussion instruments.

The album begins on a lush, vividly pastoral note with the ten-minute suite Nirvana, morphing from a stately dance theme into a sprightly, swinging scherzo and then a distantly haunting ney solo over terse oud and percussion. The ensemble end it with a beautifully majestic crescendo, bringing up the strings and oud. A similarly understated majesty rises later on the evocative Breeze from the South, Saba’s conversational arrangement for oud and buzuq building to a joyous, anthemic theme. Saba’s bansuri flute taqsim opens the goodnaturedly hypnotic Orange Dusk, its loping beat mimicking the sway of a camel making its way methodically across the desert. The title cut takes an apprehensive oud taqsim intro up into a joyous levantine dance with a terse simplicity worthy of Mohammed Abdel Wahab, followed by a long, expressionistic buzuq solo. U Vrot Vastoka (At the Door of the Orient) works tension between the distantly threatening rhythm section versus Saba’s peaceful ney (which cleverly nicks a western spy show melody).

Waltz to My Father, based on a Russian folk melody, could be Henry Purcell, strings cleverly echoing the flute theme – and then suddenly it’s back to the desert, to the here and now with the shifting, trance-inducing pulse of the bass. The group introduce a rattling, increasingly apprehensive oud-fueled East African taraab feel on Afrocola, a homage to Patrice Lumumba. The album concludes with Story of the Dried River, a dreamy, minimalist flute-and-percussion mood piece. It’s to think of another album as warmly and captivatingly atmospheric as this that’s come out in 2010.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment