Andre Hajj and Ensemble
Amaken – Instrumental Music from Lebanon (ARC Music, 2009)
With the likes of Iranian percussionist Ramin Rahimi and the Azerbaijani group Sari Gelin Ensemble on their roster of artists, ARC Music has added another gem Andre Hajj and Ensemble and their recording Amaken – Instrumental Music from Lebanon. Brilliantly recorded and passionately expressed, Amaken is rooted in the musical culture and heritage of Lebanon, with dashes of influences from the musical traditions of Persia, Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. Spotlighting the Oriental Takht, this recording overflows with the richness of buzuk, double bass, ney, oud, qanun and violin creating a glorious introduction to Middle Eastern music fans and novice listeners.
Composer, oud and bouzouk (buzuk) player Andre Hajj explains the force behind the recording, “…this type of music is not a new creation and has previously been performed. The innovative aspect lies in creating a melody that, when listened to for the first time, gives the listener the impression of something familiar without being able to define the source.”
Mr. Hajj goes on to say, “This inspired the album title Amaken (Locations), full of Oriental melodies, so when one’s memory goes back to the different places it knows, one will feel nostalgic and sometimes joyful and uplifted. What if our memory goes back to its music?”
Amaken is a treasure trove of delights. Title track “Amaken” opens the CD and immediately engulfs the listener in the vibrancy of Lebanon. Tracks like the brightly percussive “Mah’Iqaa,” the gloriously oud suffused “Dafa” and darkly rich “Ahl el Hayy” are shot though Amaken like brightly colored gems.
Expert musicianship doesn’t get any better than this. Violinist and violist Raymond Nassif, ney player Joseph Karam, qanun player David Abi Atme, double bassist Oussama El Khatib and percussionist Raymond Hajj join Andre Hajj on oud and buzuk throughout Amaken, exuding both precision and passion.
Other gems on Amaken include “Mir,” sweet and heavy with strings, “Shwayyet Hobb” with Mr. Hajj’s astonishingly stunning work on the oud and the deliciously delightful “Raheel” played in the Nouwwari or gypsy, bohemian style with violin and bouzouk in the forefront. One of my favorites is “Zakafand” with its light folk feel and sumptuous percussion.
Any descriptions I could offer pale in comparison to the richness of this recording. Mr. Hajj and ensemble turn the casual hearing of Amaken into a love affair with their extraordinary performances and passion for Lebanon’s musical traditions.
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