Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/27/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #552:

Wadi Al-Safi: Ajmal Aghani – The Very Best of Wadi Al-Safi

The career of crooner/oudist Wadi Al-Safi, “the Voice of Lebanon,” has spanned eight decades. Essentially, he’s a soul singer, with a warm baritone characterized more by nuance than bite. Like so many levantine artists dating back to the 1940s, he was also a star of screwball comedies; much of his repertoire has iconic status that extends beyond his home turf. This is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a decent overview. Lots of hits here: the lushly orchestrated La La Aini La; the sweeping Tallou Hbabna; the plaintive, hypnotic, accordion-driven Remche Ouyounek; the suspenseful, slow Ma Atwalak Ya Layl; the slinky snakecharmer dance Albi Yehwak; Betrehlak Mechwar, with its cool qanun/bass intro; and Ya Rabe’ena, which works equally well as military march or wedding dance. The whole album is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Folk Music SMB.

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July 27, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #647:

Fairouz – The Olympia Concert

When the iconic Middle Eastern chanteuse played this show at the Olympia in Paris in 1979, her beloved Lebanon was under siege. You don’t need to speak Arabic to feel the pain and longing in the her stoic, carefully modulated voice: she’s sort of the Linda Thompson of the Arab world. Here she’s backed by a full orchestra plus a rock rhythm section and a brilliant oboeist who gets a lot of solos and makes the most of them. The acknowledged classic here is the sweeping, majestic epic Sheherezade, resplendent with oud, choir and orchestra. There’s also plenty of unselfconscious longing in another epic, Ya Aukht Zeinab, A Song for Paris, the bittersweet Ya Hawa Beirut (For Love of Beirut) and the slowly unfolding European-flavored ballad Rudani Ila Biladi (It’s a Pleasure). Habbaytak Bessayf (I Loved You in the Summer) is typical of the Rahbani Brothers’ songwriting (she married one of them): brooding Northern European Romanticism with Middle Eastern tonalities. The spooky, flute-driven nocturne Ya Markab’ Al Rih is rustic and cinematic; Bhibbak Ya Lebnan (I Love You Lebanon) could break your heart. It captures a moment like few songs can. The rest of the fourteen tracks here range from Arabic disco to carnivalesque pop to slow, sweeping ballads. Bootlegged to death throughout the Arab world (visit your local Arab music store if you have one; it’s probably there in one form or another), impossible to find in English. Many of the tracks are streaming at this Vietnamese site.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, world 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