Participant two years running in Irtijal, Beirut’s improvised music festival (see CODA 323), Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang recorded these duos with seven Lebanese players during his second visit. The resulting CD is not only a fascinating document of a little-heard musical scene, but also proof that provocative sounds can arise in an isolated, war-torn country. Product of one of the Middle East’s most sophisticated cultures, the Beirut improvisers make their statements using everything from guitar, trumpet and saxophone to futuristic electronics to the traditional wind instrument, the nay. Zerang, whose arsenal ranges from the standard drum kit to miscellaneous percussion, includes in it the darbuka or North African hourglass-shaped drum used to accompany belly dancers, to make a memorable connection with musicians.. Trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, whose approach involves rolling and bubbling tongue bubbles, grace note buffers and capillary brays, generates a measured response from Zerang, who uses abrasive drum top pitter patter press rolls and cymbal rasps. Matched with the fading in-and-out electronic flutters and tangled radio signals from Raed Yassin, the drummer offloads his darbuka expertise. With Yassin flanging his raw material so that portions of undulating Arabic chanting and political discourse are stretched and splintered to create whooshing, non-verbal sounds, Zerang’s conga-like strokes give the presentation a rhythmic bottom. These blunt, thick but multiple percussion resonation also help move the airy, pinched timbres of Bechir Saadé’s nay out of the realm of snake-charming. Propelling tensile percussion strokes so that the resulting rigidity is released through multiphonics, the uneven altissimo pitch of Saadé’s wooden cylinder gets 21st Century resonance.

-- Ken Waxman

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