East Meets East
Released on Arion in 2000, Adel Salameh's Nuzha - Promenade is one of those wonderful albums whose music utterly defies categorization. The music is rooted in the Arabic and North African classical traditions but includes elements of Turkish, Persian and Indian music while also bridging art music and popular styles. It is world music in the best sense of that term, an East-Meets-East kind of fusion of the finest type as also exemplified by Israeli violin and oud virtuoso Yair Dalal and his ensembles or the Indo- Iranian ensemble Ghazal of kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and sitar ace Shujaat Hussain Khan, although much broader in its scope and vision than certainly the latter. There is also another connection to Dalal here, in the form of Turkish (low G) clarinet ace Eyal Sela, who as well as being a soloist in his own right is also a member of Yair Dalal's Al Ol Ensemble.
Adel Salameh, an acclaimed oud virtuoso who studied the instrument and the classical Arabic art music tradition and repertoire with the great Munir Bachir, like all great musicians doesn't subscribe to music being confined by cultural barriers or any one nation. On Nuzha - Promenade, the Nablus-born and Paris-based Salameh performs with two Israeli musicians sharing the same sensibilities. They are the aforementioned Eyal Sela from Jerusalem, who is as at home with klezmer and the Ashkenazi Jewish musical traditions as with the Turkish, Arabic, Balkan and Western ones and here is heard on Turkish clarinet and bamboo flute (which sounds like it might be the Indian bansuri rather than the Middle Eastern ney). And the drums and percussion phenomenon Asaf Sirkis, an Israeli born near Tel Aviv and now based in London with a formidable reputation and perhaps best-known as the engine of the rhythm section of the highly acclaimed Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble and as leader of his own trio, Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise; Sirkis, here playing bendir or frame drum, not unlike Sela is as at home with the Ashkenazi Jewish musical traditions as with the Middle Eastern ones, as well as with jazz and the Western classical tradition. They are joined by Algerian-born singer Naziha Azzouz, Salameh's wife, whose background is in Andalusian music, the Arabo-Judaic music of Moorish Spain (Al Andalus in Arabic, Sefarad in Hebrew) and North Africa.
Adel Salameh's Nuzha - Promenade opens with Mawal Andaluci, an unaccompanied traditional song of Andalusian origin. Naziha Azzouz grabs you right there with her powerful yet seemingly effortless voice that is possessed of a great spiritual beauty. Like all but two tracks on this album, Chimar is a Salameh original. Oud and bendir are soon joined by Eyal Sela's Turkish clarinet, which soon takes a dark, haunting solo. As throughout the rest of Nuzha - Promenade, Adel Salameh's oud is sheer brilliance and elegance, as indeed is Asaf Sirkis' bendir, here beautifully subtle and restrained. Haneen is a subtle, contemplative piece, full of extremely fine soloing as well as ensemble playing, and is often reminiscent of the Indian jugalbandi (or duet) form. The improvs too are somehow more reminiscent of the Hindustani style than the Middle Eastern, at least in feel. Generally more up-tempo and even exuberant, Blossom also frequently reminds of these Indian forms as well as of Iranian styles. On this as well as some other tracks, one is also sometimes superficially reminded of Israeli-born Palestinian violinist and oud player Simon Shaheen and Indian guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's Saltanah duets, but where these were meeting on common ground, Salameh and his ensemble achieve a perfect synthesis. Mawal Shar'ki opens with Salameh's dramatic oud and soon delights again with Ms. Azzouz' charismatic and dreamy, spine-tingling voice. The interplay and exchanges between oud and voice are exquisite and haunting. On Amina, Salameh's oud and Sirkis' bendir are soon joined by Sela's delicate, dream-like bamboo flute. The Asaf Sirkis original Song For Two Bendirs is an outstanding show-piece. Sirkis' virtuosity and his bendir are breathtaking and well reveal the expressive complexity and wide tonal palette that the frame drum is capable of. Najma finds Adel Salameh's exquisite oud accompanied by and in dialogue with Asaf Sirkis' subtle, sophisticated bendir. A setting of lyrics by Michael Moussa in four parts, Beyond Madness brings back Naziha Azzouz's haunting vocals with this exquisite and deeply moving love song. The lyrics are thoughtfully provided in the liner notes in Arabic as well as French and English translation. The closer of Adel Salameh's Nuzha - Promenade is provided by the lively albeit brief Naziha.
An utterly compelling as well as consistent album throughout, Adel Salameh's Nuzha - Promenade is essential in any Middle Eastern art music or contemporary world music collection. With its strong ties to Mizrakhi and Sephardi/Andalusian music, it is equally essential in any comprehensive contemporary Jewish Mizrakhi or Sephardi music collection. It's already one of my three top favourite East/East albums. Irresistible.
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