Various ‘Orient Noir: a West-Eastern divan’ (Piranha) 4/5

Here is an explorative journey that seeks to examine the musical connections on either side of the Mediterranean and is, at the same time, a showcase for some of the artists on the German label. Musicologist Dr. Bertram Nickolay has put together a well thought out and eclectic selection of songs that really works with the varied musical styles blending together. Some are old friends such as Marseilles based pianist Maurice El Médioni whose Algerian pied-noir origins offer some delicious Mediterranean-style jazz with a Latin tinge on the trumpet and vocal accompanied piece ‘Ya maalem/Kelbi razahi’. This contrasts wonderfully with the twenty-first century world fusion of Watcha Clan whose ‘Im min’alu’ marches to drum beats and Balkanesque brass. This is an unusual mix with vocals in Arabic, yet it still sounds totally convincing. Eleswhere there are some interesting discoveries. Samy El Bably is a trumpeter who plays in an atmospheric fashion with minimalist accompaniment and heavy percussion on the piece ‘Ana bamasi al haba doll’, which also features clarinet and accordion, a lovely combination. For rootsy grooves, arguably the most diverse and satisfying track of all is by the legendary Klezmatics who, on ‘I ain’t afraid’, perform in a very different vein from per usual with a folksy intro and gospel-inspired lyrics complete with drum roll. At some point Piranha would do well to put together a separate anthology of the band. For emotive female lead vocals, look no further than the opener by Salwa Abou Greisha with a mournful intro on ‘We daret el ayam’ which is augmented by a string-led orchestral ensemble. In fact the only gripe with this compliation is that contains no proper inner sleeve notes and this is one occasion when informative details on the relatively unknown musicians would have proven useful. The digipak format is neatly presented with an evocative silhouette of the Pharoahs. A fine illustration of how East and West can be perfectly compatible from a musical perspective. Tim Stenhouse

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