Recorded at Sound Studio Zerkall, February 10-15, 2005
Rabih Abou-Khalil plays Hannabach Gold Strings
Jarrod Cagwin plays Eckermann frame drums
Rabih Abou-Khalil grew up in Beirut and moved to Munich, Germany during the civil war in 1978. From early on, he learnt to play the oud, a fretless string instrument, similar to the European lute or Greek bouzouki. He studied in the Beirut conservatory from oud virtuoso Georges Farah. After moving to Germany, he studied classical flute at the Academy of Music in Munich under Walther Theurer. He has often blended traditional Arab music with jazz, and has earned praise such as "a world musician years before the phrase became a label, he makes the hot, staccato Middle Eastern flavour and the seamless grooves of jazz mingle as if they were always meant to" (John Fordham, Guardian 2002). He helped highlight the oud as a vehicle of eclectic "world jazz". Abou-Khalil and his associates are arguably creating a new international platform for improvised music, comparable to John McLaughlin and his associates in Shakti. Humor is a very important ingredient in Abou-Khalil's art and live performances. Various compositions are inspired by humorous stories, common to many is the absurdity of "commuting between cultures". Rabih Abou-Khalil's CDs are conspicuous for their high quality covers depicting Arabic art.
Abou-Khalil's new album "Songs For Sad Women" radiates with charming, elegiac beauty. Consisting of four players - on oud (Arab lute), on duduk (Armenian shawm), on serpent (a mysterious brass instrument from the Middle Ages) and drums -, the band's rather singular instrumental mixture makes for an extraordinary sound experience. This is Abou-Khalil's most emotional music to date, heart-gripping, relaxed and haunting. The album's guest star is Gevorg Dabaghyan, one of the most famous players of the duduk, Armenia's traditional oboe and national symbol. Born in 1965 in Yerevan, Dabaghyan graduated from State Conservatory in 1989 and was the first to present Armenian mediaeval spiritual music on the duduk. He became famous for his cross-cultural collaborations with such as Jan Garbarek, Gidon Kremer and Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project. In Dabaghyan's hand, the duduk becomes an autumn breeze, fresh and bright. Like a rainbow in the sky, like an eternal voice coming from the mountains and rivers of Armenia, the sound of the duduk touches the listener's heart and soul.
All Music Guide
Showing respect and audacity in equal measure, the music of Lebanese oud player/composer Rabih Abou-Khalil has always stretched musical boundaries and traversed time. His is a music which embraces tradition, and challenges it. On Songs for Sad Women Abou-Khalil marshals a stripped-down ensemble which plays with air akin to intimate chamber music, yet with the soul of timeless folk music.
The combination of Armenian 'duduk,' (a double-reed instrument related to the cornet whose origins pre-date both Christianity and Islam), the bizarrely-shaped 'serpent,' (a baritone cousin of the tuba which looks to have sprung from the imagination of an Asian calligrapher), frame drum and oud, makes for sound, which is at once familiar yet difficult to define. On "Songs for Sad Women' the middle east meets North Africa, and folk and jazz flirt and dovetail, riding in each other's currents.
Abou-Khalil's oud playing is understated and tasteful, much in the vein of guitarists Jim Hall or Bill Frisell, particularly in the way his solos seem to evolve from nothing, gradually seducing the listener. A case in point is his wonderful solo on "How Can We Dance if I Cannot Waltz?" that typifies the 'less is more' approach. On "Best if you Dressed Less" we can discern the odyssey of the oud from the middle east to the Iberian peninsula and its influences. Here Abou-Khalil's more vigorous playing sounds like a slower flamenco rasgueando. Elsewhere, his oud provides tremolo tension or plays unison lines, and in truth, he has never sounded better.
In recent years Abou-Khalil has often eschewed the bass for euphonium, tuba and here, the serpent. It is employed in much the same way as a bass, but also lends a brassy richness to the unison lines and at other times acts as a drone. In the hands of Michel Godard it is also transformed from accompanying role to a leading one on "Para O Teu Bumbum" where his solo, though almost comedic belies a tremendous technique. The other half of the rhythm section, Jarrod Cagwin, plays beautifully throughout the album. He animates the music with his shimmering brushes, light, deft touch on the frame drums and tambourine, which shimmies and swings like a belly dancer's coin belt.
This is a fine group, surely one of the best that Abou-Khalil has brought together. Gevorg Dabaghyan excels on duduk; his mournful, passionate solo on "Mourir pour ton decollete" is as expressive as the human voice, on a song which could be a lament for every mother from Al Quds to Beruit, and from Turkish Kurdistan to Baghdad. On "Best if You Dressed Less" the duduk sounds like an Indian flute. Despite the title of the album, the music is not all wailing lament; although leaning towards the melancholy there is much beauty in the playing, passion too.
This is a highly satisfying addition to Rabih Abou-Khalil's impressive discography; graceful and poetic, and one that lingers in the memory.
- Ian Patterson