The Music of the Middle East is forever fascinating on several levels (not least of which is the influence it had on France's hot jazz…prefiguring John McLaughlin and his Carnatic obsession) but can sometimes be a tad difficult to ears not used to the exotic instruments and tempi. Well, Putumayo to the rescue, because this is an extremely seductive collection, and I suggest you start with Les Orientales and their Alger, Alger, the second cut and a dusky modernization of tradition with a fetching female singer. On the other hand, Rasha's Azara Alhai is just as good, a slinky perky track with a bubbling sax line and woman vocalist who slides along the melody like a curvaceous snakette winding the tune to artful wiles.
Acoustic Arabia has the famed staggered rhythms of the region, but they're here cushioned by a more Western slant, indexing highly inflected accordions and Arabic horns and strings into the mix with simoom laden slurs and camel-humped soft lurches. Progrock groups would do well to lay an ear to tracks like Charbel Rouhana & Hani Siblini's instrumental Mada, with its vaguely Celtic overtones (hey, what's a jig if not a dervish dance in Ireland?) and constantly shifting colorations. Zaman blends dramatic Moorish airs into Batalti Eli, a finessily plucked Spanish guitar the lead axe in a tango'ed track. But…feel like a bossa tinged samba tango instead? There's exactly that kind of complementary beat in Arabic music and Maurice El Medioni's "Tu N'Aurais Jamais Du" parts the beaded curtains to bring it to you, incense and minarets trailing behind.
Like no other label, Putumayo is aggressively bringing a wealth of foreign musics to Western ears, adjusting both to harmonize gratifyingly into a respect for and enchantment with one another. It's impossible to resist material like this, there's just too much to relish, so I suggest the curious quit resisting and give in. Acoustic Arabia is a delicious CD but it doesn't matter which one you go for in their growing catalogue; every single one is a gem, all great, and your aesthetics will thank you for the treat. Splurge.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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