Recorded and mixed 28 February - 1 March 1992 at Sound Studio N, Koln, Germany.
Tarab is an unusual album for the great Lebanese jazz composer and oud player in that it features no Western instruments or musicians, except for Glen Moore on the acoustic bass. The melody instruments are the nay (Arabic flute) played by the Syrian veteran Selim Kusur and, as always, Abou-Khalil on oud or Arabic lute (which more or less functions like the piano in a standard jazz quartet). Rounding out the group are Nabil Khaiat on frame drums and percussion, and Rameesh Shotham on South Indian drums and other percussion. Everyone but Kusur has worked at least semi-regularly with Abou-Khalil. (Kusur did play on Abou-Khalil's Roots & Sprouts, an earlier instance of an album with no Western instruments.) The lack of Western instrumentalists gives Tarab a less jazzy, more Arabic feeling than Abou-Khalil's other albums. Abou-Khalil builds his albums around his guest instrumentalists, so Tarab features the nay prominently, but even more, this is an album for the oud and for showing off the rhythm section. For example, on "In Search of the Well" there is actually a bass solo. And there are a few other pleasant surprises scattered throughout the album. On "Awakening," someone - just who is not credited - lets forth a string of bol singing, that rapid-fire, tongue-twisting Indian chant made famous in the West by Sheila Chandra. And on "Arabian Waltz," a jaw harp appears out of the blue , presumably played by Shotham, who plays it on Between Dusk and Dawn, accenting the fast-paced original version of what later became the more lush title track of the album Arabian Waltz. This last song is especially welcome for its strong melody, standing out on an album that certainly does not lack for atmosphere, but which would have benefited from greater tunefulness. Still, a very worthy effort, though not the best place to start one's Rabih Abou-Khalil collection, especially if one is coming from a jazz background.
All Music Guide
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The origins of Western culture can be traced back to the ancient cultural values of the Eastern civilizations. At all stages in the history of Western culture and art there existed close links with the East. The Mediterranean region exerted a crucial influence on the West in the millennium of reciprocal interrelations between the Orient and the Occident. As far as poetry and music were concerned, there had never been any real barriers between them in the heyday of the great Mediterranean cultures. Herodot expressed his surprise at discovering that, despite all the differences in cult, manners, and customs, there existed close ties in the field of music.
Under the rule of the caliphs of the 7th and 8th centuries, Arabian music, through the integration of elements of Arabic-Semitic, Byzantine-Hellenistic, early Christian, Persian, and African elements, developed from a regional folk art into a musical culture in its own right. This development was undoubtedly one of the main reasons for its great maturity and its subsequent impact on so many other musical cultures.
In early Andalusia, Visigothic influences merged with the music of the Berber and the refined Umayyad tradition. Arabian instruments, often Asian in their origin, such as the lute (oud), or the early form of the violin (rabab) as well as the trumpet, the horn, the guitar, the zither, and the tambourine were introduced to Western Europe. During the tense political situation in Islamic Spain, music kept ties between the different peoples. The works of the most famous Arab musicologists of the 8th and 9th centuries became more accessible to Europe after they were translated into Latin. The sound of the newly introduced instalments, tuned after the Arabian model, ignited a musical revolution in Western Europe. The knowledge of the principles of rhythm and the relationships between notes (intervals, modes) also influenced the works of Franco de Colonia (circa 1190), the founder of the Franconian musical notation. There are many indications that the mediaeval instrumentalists played in the manner and the style of Middle Eastern musicians who accompanied singers. Contemporary sources from the early years of troubadour poetry mention that Moorish minstrels who sang and wrote in Arabic were active at the noble courts in Christian Spain and played regular concerts even in the French Provence.
In the 16th century, while Europe experienced the sudden elevation of music to a high art, Arabian music came to a virtual standstill. The nature of the adopted Eastern Christian liturgy changed through the addition of polyphony and the introduction of new compositions. In the following era of virtuosity a distinction between interpreter and composer emerged. Western musical development gradually broke away from Oriental aesthetics. In cosmopolitan Renaissance Italy, birthplace of the opera, the influence of the Near East was nevertheless discernible. French artists considered the East an exotic dreamland in which one could indulge safely in unrestrained fantasies. But the flourishing of desert romanticism was only a passing fashion, because the stylistic means of the composers remained too rigidly tied to the expectations and the prejudices of their times.
Every musical art that did not conform to the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic structures of Western music was arrogantly dismissed as primitive. In 185i, at the time when the first world travelers started recording the melodies of the different peoples in their own environment, Hector Berlioz stated disparagingly: "Musically, the Chinese and the Indians are still in the depths of barbarity, lost in almost infantile innocence. What the Orientals call music, we would call caterwauling. To them the hideous is the beautiful."
A Hindu scholar, Dvarkanath Tagore, mentioned in an interview in Paris in 1844: "When I heard Italian music for the first time, I could not hear any music in it at all; but I kept listening until I learned to love it, or - as you would say - understand it. We try to understand and appreciate everything that comes out of Europe, without putting down our own achievements. If you would study our music like we study yours, you would discover just as much melody, rhythm and harmony in it." He was talking to Friedrich Max Muller, professor of comparative philology in Oxford, who had pointed out the parallels between the mathematical and the musical systems in India, the Near East and Western Europe: "Whether at long last we owe Beethoven's symphonies to India is a question that has yet to be answered."
In our modern civilized world there is little left truly exotic. If we could learn to rid ourselves of our prejudices and look beyond our limited field of vision, we would be overwhelmed by an as yet unknown diversity of experiences. We would become hesitant in our judgment of the world out there. There are some composers in the East as well as in the West, who try to overcome deep-seated prejudices in their societies and thus reach new horizons. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, they seek new paths in trying to reach their ideal of truly understanding universally oriented music. Far from following fashions or imitating blindly, they achieve a truly individual form of expression through their creative study of the music of distant but no longer foreign regions. In some cases they even exert a real stylistic influence.
The Syrian musicians Selim Kusur, a father of 11 children, whose 1974 solo recording "Flute Classique de Syrie (Nay)" has become a precious collectors' item, and Nabil Khaiat, who belongs to the elite of Arabian frame drummers, appear regularly throughout the Arab world with leading musicians such as Fairuz, Warda, Wadih Al-Safi, and Sabah Fakhri. Together with American jazz bassist Glen Moore and master percussionist Ramesh Shotham from South India, they have flown in for a new production with Lebanese oud player and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil, who has long made a name for himself in the Arabian avant-garde. His music disregards all conventions and cannot be categorized into any established musical directions. Where Arabian instrumentalists are content to imitate vocal techniques, Abou-Khalil is actually enhancing the technical possibilities of the oud, and searching for new forms of expression in Arabian instrumental music. Although his music closely follows traditional rules in form, rhythm, and modes, he succeeds in performing his music with musicians from different cultures, from jazz musicians to the Kronos String Quartet. But what is most important - his spiritual ties to the early Arabian art music are always perceptible. Abou-Khalil cherishes working with the grand old masters of Arabic music, continuously fostering the link to his cultural roots.
In his music tarab, that stirring of the soul, in the Arab world so closely associated with lamentation and yearning, is always present. Such emotional and lively music, born in multi-cultural co-operation, demands a mutual agreement in conception, feeling and understanding of music.
-Jerry G. Bauer, 1993