February 18, 2017
Golan Vol. 1
Ultrack UTR 1004
Although adopting Middle Eastern styled textures goes back in Jazz history to exemplars such as Gigi Gryce’s “The Casbah”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” and Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”, only recently, like equivalent updated scholarship about the Muslim world, has exotica been replaced by understanding. Golan Vol. 1 is one of the more notable results. Unlike some efforts by musicians elsewhere in the Arab Diaspora, reconciliation between Western improvisational concepts and traditional Eastern airs is advanced without short changing either side.
Paris-based double bassist Hubert Dupont, known for his work with figures as disparate as pianist Benoit Delbecq and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, is the linchpin here. Lyon-raised Dupont, who has spent part of his time since 2013 involved in a Middle Eastern-styled trio, composed the CD’s six tracks. But their sophisticated interpretation results from a concentrated mixture of traditions. On hand are Dupont’s two associates in the Sabil trio: Galilee-born percussionist Youssef Hbeisch, who studied music at Israel’s University of Haifa and Jordanian-born oud player Ahmad Al-Khatib. Also represented are Tunisian-born violinist Zied Zouari, who is immersed in both Jazz and ethnic musics and another musician who also plays both, flutist Naïssam Jalal, born in Paris with a Syrian background. Nantes-native clarinetist Matthieu Donarier, who leads his own groups and has collaborated with Jazz players such as bassist Sébastien Boisseau and pianist Albert van Veenendaal completes the band.
Considering the apparent Arab-orientation of the material, like an expedition which makes what seems to be a unique archeological find only to discover the item is commonplace in many cultures, some timbres in the tunes ironically echo Balkan and even Klezmer currents. This is especially true when Donarier extends his solos with waves of higher-pitched tongue fluttering. But again, pointing to music’s universality Hbeisch’s derbouka strokes aren’t that different than one would hear from Candido on a Latin session. In the same way “Pass Pass” is the tune closest to Jazz, with the chipper juddering theme driven by Dupont’s rugged bass thwacks. Latterly the piece becomes a Jalal showcase as hard Rahsaan Kirk-like draughts are showed by a brittle secondary line to the point that two transverse instruments are suggested. Several other pieces are developed in orchestra-section-like fashion with the lead instrument such as violin or one of the horns, taking lead position, with the other band members responding with group vamps. Adapting one of the paramount instruments in the so-called classical music canon to a decidedly eastern facing process, on pieces like “Haïfa La Nuit – Pt. 1” and “Tusi – Pt. 2” Zouari must often rely on the contrasts available thorough spiccato and sul ponticello sweeps.
Overall though, since this East-West interaction is still in the process of gelling, it is the bassist who appears most comfortable switching from one musical culture to another. On “Tusi – Pt. 2” for instance, he sets up a contrapuntal dialogue with the oudist that speaks to mystical Saharan roots even as Hbeisch could be shaking a Salvation Army band tambourine. Yet on “Morning Promise” the dark emotions Dupont buzzes from his strings during the introduction are definitely Western, as are the tremolo strokes he uses to inflate a peacock tail wide and colored backing for the climax. His helpmate here is Donarier offering passionate empathy via pinpointed clarinet trills.
In no way the definite East-West musical meeting, Golan still goes a long way towards attaining it. Like ongoing Arab-Israeli talks which portend an equitable peace in the region, there's a string possibility that Golan Vol. 2 may produce that long expected and long-hoped-for proper combination.
Track Listing: 1. Haïfa La Nuit – Pt. 1 2. Haïfa La Nuit – Pt. 2 3. Turquoise 4. Tusi – Pt. 2 5. Morning Promise 6. Pass Pass
Personnel: Matthieu Donarier (clarinet); Naïssam Jalal (flute); Zied Zouari (violin); Ahmad Al-Khatib (oud); Hubert Dupont (bass) and Youssef Hbeisch (riq, bendur, derboukas and percussion)