Levantine Indulgence (Palmyra Recordings, 2009)
It was overlapping pre-dawn calls to prayer from the mosques of Damascus and the sounds of Arabic pop on the radio that first inspired Syrian singer Gaida. Despite her father’s expectations that she would pursue a biology degree when she moved to Detroit, her overseas studies focused on music instead. An eventual move to New York City saw her not only immersed in the Arabic music scene there, but furthering the jazz and blues leanings she’d picked up in Detroit.
The sum total of her predilections can be heard on Levantine Indulgence (named for the ancient Levant region of the Fertile Crescent where civilization began), which ranges from Arabic and Egyptian-based songs rooted in tradition to surprising bits of Brazilian bossa nova and jazz fusion.
>Gaida’s spine-tingling voice is always at home no matter what the setting, and she’s joined by a crackling crew of players who are given time and space to stretch out between Gaida’s vocal passages, making this as much a musician’s album as a singer’s album. Plus there’s an improvisational air that loosens the structures of the traditional Arab maqams (musical modes) that Gaida grew up on and obviously doesn’t want to abandon entirely, so some of the songs go in unforeseeable directions (exemplified by the bass solo emerging in the midst of the lengthy title track) that always end up in a good place.
Despite what some may say about the dangers of indulging oneself, you’ll find Gaida’s Levantine songs to be musical treats of a very healthy sort.
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