Dark, Pensive Sounds from Wahid
The music on Wahid’s new album Road Poem sounds more majestic than you’d think that just two instruments, oud and drums, could create. But Dimitris Mahlis’ oud is a resonant instrument to begin with, and Chris Wabich’s drumkit has three boomy frame drums along with a snare, and hi-hat, and tambourine. Much of this is sad and elegaic. The first few instrumentals, with their somber melodies and stately, funereal rhythm, evoke the great Lebanese composer and oudist Marcel Khalife at his darkest and most minimalist. While the oud is most closely associated with the Middle East, Mahlis doesn’t limit his melodies to that region’s haunting modes, ranging as far afield as India and the Mississippi delta.
Throughout the album, the interplay between the two musicians is thoughtful and elegant: when the music rises and falls, they do it as a team, Wabich’s occasional solo maintaining the mood rather than wandering off on a tangent. The first song, Alexander’s Regrets starts out stately and midtempo, then Mahlis starts spiraling with flurries of tremolo-picking. As the song goes on, it takes on more of a folk-rock feel. The second track, Looking for Paradhisi has a strong stylistic resemblance to Khalife, building a stark nocturnal atmosphere, while Protoleia sets a funky, Macedonian-flavored tune to a Moroccan groove, shifting unexpectedly into darker tonalities as Wabich artfully orchestrates it.
Inside Silence is another somber minor-key dirge, rising and falling and ending on a particularly poignant note. Like several of the tracks here, it was recorded in concert, the audience obviously engaged in the music, letting it linger at the end before bursting into applause.
Indra Reclines is basically a south Indian raga for oud, Mahlis interpolating brisk clusters of notes over a simple, swaying, boomy beat and a steady drone – whether that’s a loop of a bowed cymbal, maybe, or something else, isn’t clear. Steal the Bride, with its tricky syncopation, is surprisingly jazzy; the album returns to end on a moody note with The Outcast, a spaciously pensive melody that builds gracefully up from and then back down to a simple minor-key blues riff. Who is the audience for this? Beyond the usual fans of Middle Eastern music, this is a great rainy-day album – anyone with a taste for dark, melancholy music should check it out.