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Category: middle eastern music

An Individualistic, Intriguing New Album and an Outdoor Afterwork Show From Singer Miriam Elhajli

Songwriter Miriam Elhajli has carved out a distinctive sound that draws equally on jazz, 70s South American nuevo cancion and levantine sounds, reflecting her Venezuelan-Moroccan heritage. She cuts loose with an expressive, constantly mutable voice, likes fingerpicking her acoustic guitar in odd tunings and writes intriguing, thoughtfully imagistic lyrics. Her latest album The Uncertainty of Signs is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing an outdoor show on May 19 at 6 PM at the secluded terrace at Pier 3, toward the southern tip of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a good setting for her verdant, rustic yet original songs. When the park was first landscaped, there was a joke going around that it had been designed as a staging area for an invading guerilla army to hide in the shrubbery. Those in search of more peaceful pursuits here can take the A or C to High St., go down to the Fulton Landing and hang a left.

Interestingly, the first three songs on the record are in 6/8 time, more or less. When the Whirlwind Fades Out fades in with a whir from Cedric Easton’s drums, a growling drone from Ike Sturm’s bass and a brightly gorgeous, pointillistic solo from Firas Zreik’s kanun. Elhajli pulls the band into an elegant, anthemic sway with her steady fingerpicking and jazz-tinged vocals. “You should know better than to run toward that which falls,” she cautions.

There’s a subtle, conspiratorial mystery juxtaposed with a soaring angst in the second track, Tres Bocio, Elhajli’s voice rising from hints of the Middle East to a rousing, wordless crescendo, vibraphonist Chris Dingman adding lingering textures.

“I know the kingpin is an illusion, and I know we must not forget to sing in unison,” she asserts in Grayscale, which begins as a stark, Appalachian-tinged ballad and drifts further into an enigmatic contrast between dramatic vocals and a hazy backdrop. She revisits that same dichotomy a little later in Marble Staircase, Zreik’s rippling kanun setting up an otherworldly, tremoloing hulusi flute solo from Jake Rudin

Locusts Circumference is closer to Joanna Newsom-style freak-folk: it’s not clear what “quiet implosion” Elhajli is referring to. The strings of the Kasa Quartet waft and sail over Elhajli’s lattice of acoustic guitar and her full-throated, crescendoing vocals in Gold & God, an allusively jubilant salute to genuine human kindness.

The flute returns and flutters in Spiral Solutions, a brief, energetically circling number where Elhajli seeks to “recognize the unrecognizable.” Bracing, swooping strings permeate Bulk Flow: “Got two scissors and a match…I lost my spirit so I split to another land,” Elhajli relates over a lushly rustic, open-tuned, antique Britfolk-style melody.

She picks out a ringing web on electric guitar in Another Butterfly Ordeal. The next-to-last track, Cosmos is more of a jazz tone poem: “The unseen stays unseen,” Elhajli sings, “Pay attention, the cops encircle us, they don’t know what we’re up to.”

She winds up the record with In Your Arms, Familiar, a mutedly unsettled tableau reflecting a “state of utter hypnosis” where “everything is crushable” – sounds a lot like 2022, doesn’t it?

Edgy Chromatics and Slinky, Otherworldly Sounds at This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

The most esoterically enticing concert of the year so far is tomorrow afternoon, May 15 outside a Chinatown synagogue. Not all the music at this year’s annual Greek Jewish Festival is either Greek or Jewish, but it sure is good. It’s a lineup worthy of Golden Fest, the festival of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent sounds which for the better part of forty years has been one of this city’s most deliriously entertaining annual events.

This somewhat smaller but auspicious lineup begins at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring oud sorcerer Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis, psychedelic oud-rocker Scott Wilson & Efendi and the stark, haunting Pontic Firebird (best bandname ever, right?) headlining at 5. The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum, where all this takes place, is at 280 Broome St. between Allen and Eldridge; the closest train is the B/D to Grand St.

The last time this blog was in the house for one of Wilson’s shows, he was playing with an excellent Middle Eastern pickup band on the back of a flatbed trailer at the 2018 Atlantic Antic street fair. Before that, it was a lot of fun to catch his set with his somewhat harder-rocking, electric group Efendi the previous January in one of the side rooms at Golden Fest.

There’s a little bit of that show up at the recently resuscitated Free Music Archive available as a free download, along with a full set from four years earlier. That one is a tight mix of mostly well-known habibi dance standards from the 1950s and earlier. It’s not clear who’s in the band, but there’s a kanun rippling away, an electric guitar, percussion and what could be Wilson’s custom-made triple-necked axe which is part oud, part baglama and part saz. The recording quality is excellent, without much audience noise. Wilson hits the stage (or the sidewalk) tomorrow afternoon at four.

A Poignant, Rapturous, Gorgeous Armenian Classical Album by the Aznavoorian Duo

The most rapturously poignant album of the year so far is Gems From Armenia, by the Aznavoorian Duo, streaming at Spotify. Sisters Ani and Marta Aznavoorian – cello and piano, respectively – draw on their heritage for a lyrical playlist of material that spans from the 19th century to the present. It underscores the disproportionately rich influence this tiny nation’s music continues to make around the globe.

They open with a steady, spare, pensive theme, Chinar Es by foundational Romantic-era composer and musicologist Komitas. As she often does throughout the album, Ani plays in the high midrange, with a stark vibrato that sometimes evokes a kamancheh spike fiddle. A second Komitas tune, Tsirani Tsar comes across as a more nocturnal variation, lowlit by Marta’s distantly starry piano. The third, Garoun A, is a gorgeous solo piano work, more mysteriously modern and practically furtive in places. The duo continue with a balletesque grace in the fourth, Al Ailux, both hypnotic and pulsingly rhythmic.

The fifth, Krunk is not a drinking song but an achingly beautiful love ballad and a launching pad for some of Ani’s most incisive, soaringly lyrical work here. The best-known in a long line of great Armenian composers, Aram Khachaturian is represented first by the emotive miniature Ivan Sings and then his lively, pointillistic tribute to his hometown of Yerevan.

Marta plays Arno Babajanian’s Elegy with restraint but also close attention to ornamentation that mimics the microtones of Armenian folk music. Ani returns for his Aria and Dance, a fondly reflective ballad and variations.

The duo make their way methodically from a stern, tightly clustering intensity through more sparsely lyrical passages in the first movement of Avet Terterian’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. They let the allusive chromatics and poignancy speak for itself, understatedly, in the second movement and romp with a triumphant, acerbic glitter through the conclusion.

The two bring out High Romantic passion in Serouj Kradjian‘s arrangement of the traditional ballad Sari Siroun Yar and follow with Alexander Arutiunian’s Impromptu, a dynamic mashup of a levantine dance and Rachmaninovian lustre.

Vache Sharafyan’s Petrified Dance, an elegy for Armenian soldiers, is the most subdued and vividly sepulchral work on the program. The sisters conclude with the world-premiere of Peter Boyer’s Mount Ararat, climbing from a portentous cello melody to a syncopated gallop up the slope, with stunning, chromatically bristling breaks to view the scenery. This unselfconsciously beautiful collection deserves a second volume. For that matter, the Aznavoorians could have a franchise here if they felt like it.

Mamak Khadem’s Rapturous New Album Transcends Tragedy and Loss

One of the most capriciously cruel effects of the post-2020 lockdowns was the separation of families from ailing, elderly parents. Because of totalitarian travel restrictions, singer Mamak Khadem was unable to return home to her native Iran to see her father before he died: divide-and-conquer taken to a particularly sadistic extreme. Khadem channeled her grief into an often wrenchingly beautiful, immersive tribute, Remembrance, streaming at youtube.

Although the album is characteristically eclectic and spans many genres, it’s 180 degrees from the exuberance and exhilaration of her previous release The Road, a 2016 brass-and-string fueled mashup of Balkan dances and classical Persian poetry. For whatever reason, this is more of an art-rock record.

The sound is more desolate and enveloping, sculpted largely by multi-instrumentalist Jamshied Sharifi, guitarist Marc Copely and cellist Chris Votek, with many other musicians contributing. Khadem sings in Farsi, opening with the title track. Mickey Raphael’s forlorn, bluesy minor-key harmonica is an unexpected touch in this slowly swaying setting of the Saadi Shirazi poem, Copely’s multitracks and Khadem’s imploring, melismatic vocals flickering over Sharifi’s atmospheric backdrop. It brings to mind peak-era, mid-zeros Botanica.

Khadem rises from a wary tenderness to fullscale angst in Mina, a brooding, drifting setting of a Saied Soltanpour text lowlit by Sharifi’s piano and Benjamin Wittman’s clip-clop percussion. Khadem goes to the Rumi repertoire for the lyrics to Entangled over dissociative, rhythmic layers of vocals, cello and wafting synthesized orchestration.

Khadem takes a backseat, contributing vocalese to Across the Oceans, Coleman Barks narrating the Rumi poem over a loopy, simple backdrop with spare contributions from Roubik Haroutunian on duduk and Ivan Chardakov on gaida bagpipes. Dead and Alive begins more calmly, in a pastoral Pink Floyd vein, then Copely pulls the energy skyward. It’s an apt poem for this point in history: one of its central themes is to be open to serendipity.

Khadem sets an emotive Fatemeh Baraghani poem to a starkly gorgeous traditional Armenian theme in Face to Face, Mehdi Bagheri adding ravishing, spiraling kamancheh fiddle. Copely plays spare resonator guitar behind Khadem’s warm, hopeful delivery in Messenger, Sharifi turning up the enveloping keyboard ambience. The final cut is Don’t Go Without Me: Barks’ English narration is especially poignant considering the circumstances, as is Khadem’s gentle, wounded interpretation of the original. As her harmonies rise in the distance, the effect is viscerally heartbreaking.

Anouar Kaddour Cherif Releases an Inimitably Gorgeous North African Album

Anouar Kaddour Cherif’s axe is the mandola, the gorgeous, woody-toned North African lute, akin to an oud with a larger body and expanded upper register. The Algerian expat’s latest album Djawla – streaming at Bandcamp – is a deliciously edgy mashup of North African Arabic music and Balkan jazz. Cherif’s songs are unpredictable: dirges burst out into scampering, deftly syncopated dances and vice versa when least expected. It’s closer to chaabi or Turkish diasporic styles than it is jazz, and his quartet play briskly but with a striking economy of notes: noodling not allowed here. There’s really nothing quite like this out there.

In the opening track, Sans Pap the group take a slinky chromatic riff, go scampering, then slow it down, the mandola and Clément Meunier’s tersely looming bass clarinet over the lithe, understated pulse of Antoine Brochot’s bass and Hannes Junker’s drums.

Meunier’s aching, desolate, duduk-like upper register flutters over Cherif’s spare riffage as the group slowly make their way into Albatross over an ominous bass drone. Eventually they pick it up – and suddenly the bird breaks free of its shackles! Was this inspired by the Baudelaire poem maybe?

Likewise, Cherif backs away from his scrambling opening taqsim for more plaintive bass clarinet to introduce Savage Butterfly, then the band scramble and team up for bristling chromatic harmonies over a tricky dance beat. Brochot opens Call of the Night with a mysterious, skeletal solo before Cherif’s Lynchian chords enter from the shadows, only to back away, leaving just the rhythm section and low-key vocals.

Neatly orchestrated echo effects shift between instruments in Sirocco, a return to tight, rapidfire syncopation, with a break for spare, misterioso solo mandola. The band hint at the Pink Panther theme, slowly building Automne Occidental into a slow North African noir blues and then a briskly circling, vampy theme.

A True Lie is an ingenious, seemingly halfspeed take on what would otherwise be a lickety-split dance tune that would be just as much at home in Macedonia or Turkey as Algeria. Virgule – French for “comma” or “decimal point,” depending on context – is the loopiest and most rhythmically straightforward track here, with playful exchanges between the instruments. The group wind up the record with Amiret Erriyam, a loping, stately anthem in the biting Arabic hijaz mode with a tasty microtonal bass solo at the center.

The Spy From Cairo Keeps Making Deliciously Serpentine Middle Eastern Dub Sounds

For more than a decade, one-man band Moreno “Zeb” Visini has been making wildly psychedelic dubwise Middle Eastern dance music under the name The Spy From Cairo. Oud and saz lute are his main axes, but he’s also adept at keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. As usual, he plays everything with expertise and a wry sense of humor on his new vinyl record Animamundi, streaming at Bandcamp.

He was able to record the album in his home country of Italy despite the fascist restrictions which are still in place there, since he does all the music himself with a little transcontinental input from talented vocalists on the web. The central message is freedom. If there are bouncy castles at the rallies in Rome, this is the kind of stuff that freedom fighters (and their kids) could re-energize with. There are a ton of flavors on this record, all held together by lusciously chromatic maqams.

He gets off to a strong start with the title track. a brisk Egyptian reggae tune built around a catchy, scampering, biting oud lead track. Daf frame drum booms in the background, “Information of creation is stored in our DNA,” a rasta explains in the voiceover at the end. No doubt!

Asssembled around a catchy chromatic riff, Beautiful Baraka, featuring Adil Smaali is a chaabi-reggae-rap mashup with a couple of keyboards trading off in a wry call-and-response. Black Sea comes across as a trebly dub plate with wah-wah oud. Visini balances another slithery, catchy oud riff against microtonal roller-rink organ in Cosmic Pasha, then takes a deep plunge into Middle Eastern cumbia in Criminal, with Mambe Rodriguez taking a coy turn on vocals.

Divination has a more enigmatic Balkan-flavored tune, but Visini works anthemic string synth riffs into it. He goes back to a brisk cumbia groove, adding layers of cifteli lute and a scrambling oud solo in Extraterrestre, featuring Andalucian vocalist Carmen Estevez. Hamsa Shuffle has lusciously microtonal violin and a blippy, hypnotic cumbia sway, while Mizmirized has otherworldly zurna oboe and a swaying rai beat.

Visini ripples and pings his way through Qanun in Dub, a reggae tune and one of the most unselfconsciously gorgeous tracks on the record. Seeds of Culture is a loopy Indian-flavored song with snakecharmer ney flute over a rai rhythm and an unexpectedly bristling oud outro (is there such a word as “oudtro?”). The final cut, Ya Wuldani features guests Fatou Gozlan & Duo Darbar and is arguably the most psychedelic, dubwise number. It’s awfully early in the year to be talking about the best albums of 2022, but this is one of them.

A Gorgeous, Lyrical Middle Eastern-Inspired Jazz Album From Lena Bloch

Tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch‘s latest album Rose of Lifta – streaming at Soundcloud – explores the theme of exile, as articulated by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, someone considerably familiar with the concept. Lifta, the Israeli village referenced in the album title, survived demolition in the 1948 naqba. Let us hope that it will remain intact.

The songs on the album do justice to Darwish, widely regarded during his life as the voice of the Palestinians. Bloch’s Feathery ensemble includes Russ Lossing on piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. Bloch’s embrace of Middle Eastern modes is strong and striking, and her bandmates clearly relish the chance to play her poignant themes. This could be the most outside-the-box album any of them have ever made.

They open with the epic Promise of Return. Lossing plays lingering, glittering and eventually scrambling riffs as Mintz uses his toms to mimic the boom of a Middle Eastern dumbek. Bloch makes her way through terse, assertive, incisive riffs that wind down to a dusky hush. floating and weaving overhead. Then she hits a crescendo and turns the spotlight over to Brown for an enigmatically prowling solo before the Palestinian theme returns. Tarek Yamani’s work comes to mind. What a gorgeous way to open the album.

Mad Mirror musically reflects two of Darwish’s signature devices: allusion and absence. Listen closely and you can hear Bloch’s poignant, spare opening solo resonating in Lossing’s piano. From there he builds to firm blocks of chords and jauntily rippling phrases as Brown feels the ancient walls for a crevasse or two.

New Home, the first of three Lossing tunes, has a wary swing, disquietingly allusive chordal work and an implied 12/8 groove; the bandleader sits this one out til her warily optimistic solo midway through as Mintz adds subtly shuffling brushwork and Brown anchors it with a subtle, balletesque pulse.

The album’s centerpiece, Climbing Rose of Lifta is a portrait of indomitability, the flower peeking up from inside the piano, Bloch broodingly contemplating the climb ahead over Lossing’s somber glimmer. Mintz signals a sober, marching determination, Bloch pulling the group back to reflectively distant disquiet and a considerably more somber, striding theme.

After Brown runs a catchy solo verse of Old Home, the second Lossing tune, a chill filters in beneath the pianist’s somewhat mutedly hypnotic, otherworldly lines while Bloch threads animatedly in between. more of a poltergeist than a ghost. Lossing’s darkly majestic, shifting modes as he rises and recedes are absolutely luscious.

The quartet return to a march, if more haggardly in Bloch’s final number here, simply titled Mahmoud Darwish. Brown bowine eerie harmonies with Bloch, Mintz driving the weary caravan to an oasis animated by Lossing’s spirals and hammering stairsteps. Bloch emerges resolutely and smolders amid increasing entropy. The majestic climb toward a strong, united front echoes Amir ElSaffar‘s most dramatic recent work.

The album closes with a Lossing number, Wintry Mix, a return to chilly 12/8 empty-room reflection but with more pastoral tinges. Bloch parses steady chromatics over Brown’s terse pedalpoint and Lossing’s splashes and resonance before he takes the theme deeper into the desert, and then out with a flourish. This will resonate thematically with any musically adventurous ex-New Yorker – or ex-Californian, Oregonian, Rhode Islander or anyone else – forced to flee to a new home in one of the free states.

Haunting, Starkly Resonant Middle Eastern-Flavored Sounds From Singer Christiane Karam

Singer/percussionist Christiane Karam has built a unique and darkly captivating body of work that blends Middle Eastern and Balkan music, jazz and European art-song. Like Sarah Serpa, Karam gravitates toward subtly expressive, wordless vocals. She covers a deceptively impressive among of ground, from aching highs to somber lows. She’s good at surprise, pulling crescendos out of thin air. Her new album Nar – Arabic for “fire” – is streaming at Bandcamp.

A dramatic flurry of cymbals. whirring bendir, and haunting cello in the hijaz mode kick off the title track, Karam adding gently rhythmic vocalese, pianist Vadim Neselovskyi parsing spare chords over a lithe but slinky groove from bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Keita Ogawa. Karam rises to a defiant triumph, then dips to a a more muted, visceral sense of longing

The album’s second number is Halla Fayat, a catchy, pensive waltz punctuated by a brooding ,melismatic cello solo, a tersely elegant bass solo, somber reflecting-pool piano and the occasional big cymbal splash

In Last Snow, she runs spare variations on a three-note riff, then cuts loose with an unexpected crecendo, Neselovskyi building icy ambience over a steady, sparse sway. The group diverge and then regroup, only to fall away to an eerily dissociative ending.

Karam’s experience leading a Balkan choir informs her minutely nuanced ornamentation in Petlite Payat over a skeletal cello/bass intro and then a shivery, soberly resonant backdrop.

The album features two spoken-word interludes.. “Where I come from, everything is deadly, everything hurts…we revolt, we rebel, we try, we want to live,” the Beirut-born Karam asserts over a percussive, atmospheric tableau. In the second, she exchanges guardedly hopeful, simple riffs with the piano as it grows more rippling and intricate.

Scrapy, droning low strings contrast with Karam’s plaintive, soaring vocals as the album’s most epic track, Beirut gets underway, Karam smacking a tapan standup drum for extra bite on the beats. Starkly echoing atmosphere falls apart violently, Karam tries to pull it up with simple, concise melody, but darkness pervades and descends, percussive metal flickering amid an increasingly torrential whirlpool. From there Neselovskyi amd Slavov rise to a staggered, insistent pulse as Alatrash swoops and wails. The shivery, macabre wartime tableau right before the end is absolutely chilling.

Karam sings the woundedly crescendoing ballad Peine in French, spare piano and bass triangulating subtly with the drums. The album’s most insistently haunting song is Paneen, a bitterly poetic escape anthem: it could be a late 60s Procol Harum cut with Arabic lyrics and a woman out front.

Karam goes back to vocalese in Voyage, gracefully lilting waltz with a punchy bass solo, starrily psychedelic piano and warily descending, snarling cello curlicues. Then she flips the script completely with the album’s airiest, most playful track, Btihi Ala Bali.

Karaam and Ogawa join forces for a percussive, flamenco-infused attack to open Faramdole, which quickly calms to a pensive minor-key ballad, then a darkly circling, turbulent interlude and an increasingly tongue-in-cheek drum break, The band wind up the album with a reprise of the opening theme. This gorgeous record is on the shortlist of the best and most original albums of 2022 so far.

Poignant, Gorgeous New Songs For Viola Da Gamba on Almalé’s New Album

Pilar Almalé’s axe is the viola da gamba. It’s an unusual choice for an original songwriter, especially since most of the repertoire for the instrument is from the baroque era and before . Almalé has an expressive voice, uses the gamba for both cello-like sustain and basslines, writes strong melodies and reinvents older material with considerable flair. Her new album, Hixa Mia (My Daughter), released under her last name, is streaming at Spotify. She has a fantastic, similarly adventurous band. Violinist Thomas Kretszchmar and guitarist Alex Comín blend terse, imaginative jazz and Romany influences without cluttering the sound, percussionist Fran Gazol adding flamenco and Middle Eastern grooves.

Almalé opens the album with the title track, a catchy, Andalucian-flavored, poignant minor-key anthem with a swaying, levantine-tinged groove and a stark, jazz-inflected violin solo. You could call this folk-rock, or Romany music, or something fresh and new. The string harmonies on the slow, gently syncopated second track, simply titled Passacalle, are stark, rich and reedlike, a close approximation of an accordion. Comín bobs and weaves and chooses his spots, whether with feathery tremolo-picking, big lush chords or carefree single-note jazz lines.

She opens A la Luna, a gorgeously slinky, trickily rhythmic Turkish-inspired number, with a broodingly bowed solo, bringing a visceral sense of longing to the lyrics. Kretszchmar subtly builds his solo to a searing peak.

Pianist Lucas Delgado plays carefully articulated, somber lines in Flow My Tears, a moody, klezmer-esque ballad which Almalé sings in low-key, cadenced English. The group veer between brisk Romany-flavored jazz, a moody ballad and the baroque in the instrumental Blue Lamento. It makes a good bridge to Folias Gallegas, an upbeat, Celtic-tinged circle dance with an austere, baroque-flavored solo gamba break midway through.

La Patetica, a solo gamba piece, comes across as a stormy mashup of Tschaikovsky and a Bach cello suite. Almalé launches a-cappella into the album’s final cut, Los Guisados, a rousing, rustically waltzing anthem that rises out of an unexpected lull to a tantalizing white-knuckle restraint. It’s unlike anything else released in the last several months. Fans of music from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Black Sea will love this stuff.

American Choir and Andalucian Traditional Ensemble Join Forces to Mesmerizing Effect

One of the most fascinatingly original large-ensemble albums of recent months is Words Adorned, the cross-pollinated collaboration between Philadelphia chamber choir The Crossing and traditional Andalucian group the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble, streaming at Navona Records (click the link and scroll down to the listen button on the left). Donald Nally conducts; the lyrics are in Arabic.

While the tradition of audience singalongs in Middle Eastern music goes back thousands of years, there’s never been an album quite like this: a choral group fond of concept albums with music by contemporary composers joining forces with a starkly dusky, often rustic maqam ensemble. The closest comparison is the Navatman Music Collective, who bring harmony to new Indian music, another otherwise completely harmony-less idiom. Which is not to say that the music here always employs harmonies, but when it does, the effect is striking.

There are two suites on the album. The first is Kareem Roustom‘s new settings of ancient poetry, titled Embroidered Verses, packed with unexpected diversions and false endings. The opening song is Oh People of Andalucia, What Beauty You Have, where suspenseful ripples and flurries from Wassim Odeh’s oud and Hicham Chami’s kanun are quickly joined by the choir. A fleeting, bracing rise from Hanna Khoury’s violin and Kinan Abou-afach’s cello at the end will give you goosebumps.

The second number, a drinking song, begins with a surreal, strutting riff before the chorus and instrumentalists kick in over a jaunty clip-clop rhythm fueled by Hafez Kotain’s percussion. The mix of baroque counterpoint and Arabic maqam modes is surreal, to say the least.

The third segment, a setting of a love poem by Umm Al-Kiram has a gentle, lilting motion, tantalizing accents from the strings, an even more tantalizing Khoury solo and breathtaking contrast between her shivery lines and the crescendoing power of the singers. The bellicose finale begins with a mysterious pulse from the strings, the men of the choir anchoring the most rhythmically complex and harmonically enigmatic interlude here. This time it’s the kanun rippling through the mix which provides the extra bite.

The second suite is Abou-Afach‘s Of Nights and Solace, a collection of poems that begin at sunset and wind up at the break of dawn the following day. Soloist Dalal Abu Amneh‘s assertively articulated soprano blends within an increasingly complex contrapuntal web in the opening prelude, Moonrise.

She brings a visceral sense of longing to the second song, Greet These Faces, over a slinky, gorgeously bittersweet, glittering backdrop, the choir echoing and doubling the melody line: it’s the most hypnotic track here. As you would expect, Forsaken is more desolate, stark and ghostly, the choir using a vast sonic and dynamic range as they rise from basso profundo lows.

A lively but understated instrumental mix of flamenco and dervish dance sets up You Who Left and Passed, blending the playful and the plaintive, spaciousness giving way to robust density. The two groups pack a wild blend of ideas into the rousing, barely two-minute concluding sunrise tableau.

Abu Amneh and the takht ensemble wind up this late-2019 concert recording with When He Appeared, a brisk, stately, haunting song utilizing text by Muhammad Abd Al-Rahim Al-Maslub. It’s rare that music this cutting-edge is just as unselfconsciously beautiful.