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CD Review: Rabih Abou-Khalil, Joachim Kuhn & Jarrod Cagwin – Journey to the Centre of An Egg

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For a real freaky evening, pack a freshy-fresh, pop this CD into the player, pull out a bottle of red (and not that Charles Shaw shit, either) and prepare for a different kind of East meets West. Lebanese-born oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil lays down some of the most interesting tracks you’ll ever hear. Not being one to be pigeonholed to a certain genre of sound, Abou-Khalil explores waves not yet ridden. Journey to the Centre of an Egg has nothing to do with omelets but everything to do with breaking the shells and pushing boundaries.

At first, I thought these guys were just tuning up when I started playing the disc. Once I turned it up, I started to catch on. Now, I think I know what an oud is, but I’m not too sure. I do know to become a master at anything, you have to be practicing for a long frackin’ time. For 25 years, Abou-Khalil has been charming the world with his oud and the way he plays it.

In Journey he blends jazz, the sweet-controlled sound of chaos, with his Middle Eastern sound. Subscribing to the Miles Davis theory that “what you don’t play is just as important as what you do play”, Rabih takes his oud to a new realm along with long-time percussionist and collaborator Jarrod Cagwin, whose artistry is subtle, yet dynamic. He seems to be at home on this disc as he sometimes slips in and out of the chaos until Rabih takes control.

Joachim Kuhn, one of Germany’s greatest pianist/composers, adds in with his renowned skills. He is one of Europe’s most accomplished and respected jazz musicians. Like Felix the Cat’s magic bag of tricks, Kuhn’s experience brings a cornucopia of ideas that lend themselves to Rabih’s adventures. This is the first time Rabih has ever added a piano. Drummer Wolfgang Reisinger joins in on two tracks.

The Journey… starts out with the oud and piano in a comparable rhythm with the drums softly beating in the back on “Shrewd Woman”, sounding like you are about to set out down the old Silk Road. Somewhere down that road some unstructured jazz breaks in as the piano and oud now offset each other with different little riffs and chords that bounce around. Cagwin is lured into the chaotic form, but then his beats seem to charge off into the distance. He is the first to come back, bringing in Jochim and Rabih, as the first track settles down. That is followed by “Little Camels”. The oud and drum start this out with a traditional Arabic sound, but then Rabih stretches the oud deeper as Kuhn brings in the keys of the piano.

The first three tracks are a build-up to the middle two, ” I’m Better Off Without You” and “Natwasheh and Kadwasheh”, both of which are the antithesis of the CD. In the former, the movement of the rhythm starts out strong and quick, similar to “Little Camels”, yet in the middle of the piece the oud takes a slow, dark turn. Here is where the Davis Theory is applied. Rabih holds well to it, and so do Kuhn and Cagwin. Wolfgang too knows his formats as he taunts the oud and piano with his taps and rolls. “Natwasheh and Kadwasheh” comes right after and the distinction between the two becomes blurred. Like a 25-minute jam, the tone picks up in “Natwasheh and Kadwasheh” after a few moments.

“Mango” and “No Plastic Cups, Please” follow. They break from Middle Eastern tradition and blow full on, especially on “No Plastic Cups, Please”, as the oud chases the keys around the pattering of the drums. “Sweet and Sour Milk” finishes off the Journey… at just over four minutes with a retracing of Middle Eastern sounds as the piano blends in to the storytelling of the oud. Chaos is over and all have made it safely home, least it seems so for now.

Journey is the equivalent of an abstract painting where the artist’s idea is for the viewer, or this time the listener, to make up their own definitions about what they had just experienced. I believe in Davis’ theory, but at times I found myself getting up just to make sure my player was still on and the disc wasn’t over yet. I understand that what is not played, like what is not said, can be made out to be very powerful or very delicate depending on the enterprise that is being presented. The essences of which, is captured here.

Abou-Khalil and his crew have brought us the ancient sound of the Middle East and crafted it into the abstract format of Western, specifically American Jazz. Rabih has proved that sounds from anywhere in the world can be brought together, and when this occurs, new ideas in music can arise, although you may have to crack a few eggs in doing it.

This is Fumo saying…..I’m gonna make an omelet…I got the munchies. Later.

Written by Fumo Verde

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS