Two Tenors & Qantara: Historic Live Recording of Arabic Masters [LIVE]

Posted By MiOd On 8:09 AM Under
Wadi Al-Safi and Sabah Fakhri are two of old-world Arab music's finest singers; multi-instrumentalist Simon Shaheen leads Qantara through a series of twisting, stirring arrangements. It's a theoretically luminous combination, if not always a successful one. Shaheen is occasionally too contemporary in his approach to really lend the singers anything more than cursory support on this live set. The tension, while not always evident, is nonetheless constantly simmering. A historical event with mixed results. ~ Michael Gallucci, All Music Guide

For lovers of both classical Arabic vocal and instrumental music, this state of the art live CD is bound to set a new standard. A rare U.S. appearance of old guard Levantine vocal masters Wadi El Safi (for Anglo fans who've put up with shoddy tapes labelled in slang, aka Wadi Essafi) and Sabah Fakhri, along with young Galilean lion Simon Shaheen's cutting edge orchestra, Qantara, this deeply satisfying evening's worth of music was recorded in Las Vegas, of all places! But you wouldn't know that from either the classy and musically challenging repertoire, or the elegant CD booklet that allows Anglos to follow along with the fuscha/proper Arabic poetry, presented with English translations provided. For second generation Arab-Americans or the linguistically ambitious, the lyrics follow in Arabic, facilitating a learning experience while delighting in the sounds. Before we are introduced to the Two Tenors, Simon Shaheen's spiraling violin lines soar through orchestral interplay with his Qantara (Arabic for Arc or Archway) ensemble on his dazzling composition "Dance Mediterrania." You may have heard a fiddler on a roof, but the exhiliration rises considerably when you've got a precise fiddler spinning ecstatically upon an undulating arch. Shaheen has spent half as many years based in the musically fertile New York scene as he did developing his deep reserves of talent in Phalesteen/Israel. His now out of print "TURATH/HERITAGE" oud recording made in Brooklyn, announced his aesthetics of steeping his artistic growth in the deep reservoire of Arabic classical music. Yet, Shaheen and his remarkably flexible Qantara musicians play even the most traditional of tunes with a hint of the modern. Their creative curiosity is frequently heard getting the best of them. Another New York-based Arabic virtuoso and fountain of harmonic ideas is Bassam Saba, originally of Lebanon, whose flute wizardry is heard here alternating on the symphonic instrument, and traditional Arabic reed variety, known as the nay. Saba has been working with an Arabic jazz group in New York called Myriade, whose debut CD "SOUKOUN" features some of the unexpectedly soothing and tranquil tones that punctuate Shaheen's own demanding and rigorous adherence to formal Arabic maqamaat/modalities. Shaheen's composition, "Al Qantara/The Arch," in both instrumentation and recapitulation of theme, bridges the near eastern and western harmonic spheres. This aural transmigration is aided by Jamey Haddad's complex percussion, and Arturo Martinez's Andalusian guitar work, that is so well complemented by Shaheen's own oud and violin parts, and Saba's beguiling airs. Wadi El Safi is known as the Voice of Lebanon, and his presence adds warmth, wit, and sly romantic elements to the evening. He grew up in a small Lebanese mountain village, and brought a wealth of Lebnani folk tradition to the big city of Beirut, where his more formal musical skills developed. El Safi has a kind of charisma that I don't think most Americans associate with Arab culture. It is gentle, laid back, and funny in a deadpan country (think Andy Griffith) sort of way. When he sings "Ya Hilwa/Oh Pretty Girl" you can just about hear him winking through the speakers. His own song, now considered a standard folk tune "Jannaat/Gardens" is a lovely stroll through Lebanon's more enchanted regions. El Safi acknowledges the devastating toll of civil war and social chaos in his good-humoured redemptive ballad "Ya Ghayibeen/Oh You Are Away," and in the moving poem/song by Zaki Nassiph, "Taalu Habaabna/Our Beloved Are Back." He opens his set with the widely popular staple of his repertoire, "Lebnan/Lebanon." Sabah Fakhri is more than a virtuosic tenor. He is a living repository of the wealth of musical traditions associated with Haleb, or Aleppo, the ancient northern Syrian fortress city. To get an idea of Fakhri's chops, as you are getting blown away by the contoured vocal gusts blowing through your speakers, bear in mind that the Syrian vocal master actually holds the Guiness World Record for non-stop and in perfect pitch singing, clocking in at over 13 consecutive hours. He doesn't have that kind of running time to play with on this CD, but we get an excellent cross-section of his vast and wide-ranging repertoire from muwasheshah (Andalusian or Umayyid religious and/or sensual poetry set to song) to mawwal (improvisational verbal sparring over divine and mortal attributes) to qadd, a style unique to Syria and heard here in the charming "Al Rosana." I would have liked to hear Fakhri draw some on the Mevlevi Sufi tradition for which he is known as an acknowledged musicological researcher and scholar. Many western listeners would be most surprised to learn that Islam produced an ecstatic and sensual spiritual tradition that included, rather than excluded women, and that has been ruthlessly suppressed in the Arabic World after its blossoming under the Turkish Caliphs, and in the nether North African regions of the Islamic Empire. Most satisfying here on this Mondo Melodia release is Sabah Fakhri's arrangement of the traditional "Qadduka Il-Mayyas/Your Swaying Hips." Fakhri's 18-piece (including vocal chorus) Haleb/Aleppo ensemble's setting of "Al Lu'Lu Al Mandood/The Beautifully Set Pearls" is an arranger's marvel. Again, it is Bassam Saba's flutework that rises out of the violin section (6 fiddles), dual cello, Ahmad Yasser Ousta's hand percussion, and Amer Ammouri's spritely oud accompanying Sabah Fakhri's well-tempered tenor on its deep sea dives and airy arcs. This recording should be the cornerstone of any World Music lover's Arabic collection.

[01]. Dance Mediterrania - Simon Shaheen & Qantara
[02]. Lubnan - Wadi Al-Safi
[03]. Jannaat - Wadi Al-Safi
[04]. Tallu Hbaabna - Wadi Al-Safi/Sabah Fakhri/Simon Shaheen & Qantara
[05]. Allah Ma'ik Ya Zanba'a - Wadi Al-Safi
[06]. Ya Ghayibeen - Wadi Al-Safi
[07]. Ya Hilwa - Wadi Al-Safi
[08]. Al-Laylu Ya Layla - Wadi Al-Safi/Wadi Al-Safi Group
[09]. Al Qantara - Simon Shaheen & Qantara
[10]. Al-Lu'Lu' Al-Mandood - Sabah Fakhri
[11]. Qadduka 'I-Mayyaas - Sabah Fakhri
[12]. Min'Ees/Ya Raakibi I-Hamra/Saah Tayri I-Hamaam - Sabah Fakhri
[13]. Ya Maali 'Sh-Shaam - Sabah Fakhri
[14]. Wihyaat 'Inayya - Sabah Fakhri/Sabah Fakhri Group
[15]. 'Al Rosana - Sabah Fakhri

MP3 192 kbps Incl. Front Cover