The Perfume Road - The Sweet Smell of Successful Fusion
First released in 2001 on the enterprising Israeli Magda label, Yair Dalal's The Perfume Road still stands as his strongest album to date. But Dalal seems to have a knack for surpassing himself with each new album, and I haven't yet heard his more recent Asmar.
Yair Dalal is an outstanding 'ud and violin player as well as composer, deeply rooted in Iraqi Jewish music and the traditional music of the Bedouins of Israel's Negev desert. His superb musicianship and great sensitivity are wonderfully complemented by his Al Ol ensemble, consisting of Eyal Sela on flutes, clarinet and Turkish clarinet (the latter is a low clarinet in G, usually made of brass), Nurit Ofer on tabla, tampura and vocal, Avi Agababa on percussion, and Eyal Faran on sitar, saz and guitar. Great empathy among the players pervades each track.
All six tracks on The Perfume Road are Dalal originals and testify to his gifts as a composer. If the instrumentation is a mix of Middle Eastern, Indian and Western instruments, the music is a highly successful fusion of diverse Middle Eastern and Indian traditions, with elements of Western classical and jazz traditions, a blend of Arabic and Jewish elements, of Eastern and Western styles, of the ancient and the modern. To put it simply, The Perfume Road is one of the finest examples of World Fusion music that it's been my pleasure to encounter and ultimately, this wonderful music defies the pigeon-holing of genre and other such silly labels. This is an organically grown fusion, not some exercise in world musical mathematics. The music is at once powerfully spiritual and earthy, haunting in its beauty and irresistible in its great charm. The melodic line, seductive and powerful, dominates all, strengthened and enhanced, complemented rather than detracted from, by the intricate rhythms.
It is also worth pointing out that The Perfume Road is also the finest example bar none of the use of the sitar outside the confines of Hindustani (or North Indian) classical music (and Hindustani/Persian classical "fusion") to date that I have encountered. Usually, the sitar ends up as a bit of shallow "exotic" colour and little else. Admittedly, most Indian stringed instruments are not easy to use in other forms of music, especially on account of their sympathetic and drone strings, tuned as they are to the single mode being played and particularly its tonic and dominant - this is supremely suited to the Indian tradition which does not permit "modulation" or modal progression and modal interchange, but tends to be out of place and even jarring where these are the norm. However, The Perfume Road uses the sitar sensitively and to supreme effect. While I don't really wish to single out individual tracks on this album in general, the sitar parts and most especially the interplay between sitar and clarinet/Turkish clarinet particularly on El Halidg, Petra, and Shalomediterranee really are quite simply sublime.
With The Perfume Road, Yair Dalal yet again confirms and strengthens his standing as not only one of the leading lights of serious Israeli/Arab fusion, but indeed one of Israel's and the Middle East's greatest musicians per se. Most of all, let it not be forgotten that The Perfume Road is simply gorgeous and enormously enjoyable music, music for the ear, for the heart and soul, and yes, even the feet!
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