Ahmed Al Khatib and Youssef Hbeisch ‘Sabîl’ (Moucharbiek/Harmonia Mundi) 5/5

From an ongoing series of new recordings under the aegis of the Institut du Monde Arabe, that wonderful edifice on the banks of the Seine in Paris devoted to promoting Arabic culture in its myriad forms and with one of the best views of the city from its impressive bookshop that also contains ai impressive music collection, comes an interesting pairing of Palestinian musicians, Ahmed Al Khatib on oud and Youssef Hbeisch on various percussion with an emphasis on Oriental instrumentation. Arabic classical music differs significantly from other continents/territories, notably Western classical, in its emphasis on rhythm as opposed to harmony in Western musical forms and in pratice this means a far greater liberty afforded to the percussionist here to explore new ground. This is precisely why the music by the duo is so rich and densely layered for the listener to be instantly swept away. At times one has to pinch oneself to be reminded that just two musicians are on the recording. The music resembles a deeply evocative journey into the unknown and the listener is thereafter transported into a mystical kingdom which is for all that both a soothing and a healing experience. It has to be acknowledged that the superlative music is matched by the excellence of the in-depth interview conducted with Ahamd Al Khatib which not only covers his and Hbeisch’s career, but also tackles the basics of Arabic classical music, Western misperceptions on the music and detailed explanations on the instruments performed herein. Bi-lingual notes in English/French with a poem by Ibrahim Al Khatib translated into both languages as well as its original Arabic. At some stage some enterprising company ought to do an anthology of contemporary Arabic classical music aimed at a wider non-specialist audience. What this release does so brilliantly is to immediately take you into the musical realm of the subconscious and that alone is worth all the effort. Tim Stenhouse

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