Little Earth (UR Music UR005, 2010)
Master oud (Arabic lute) player and composer Rahim AlHaj was imprisoned in and eventually kicked out of his native Iraq for writing an anti-war song that rubbed Saddam Hussein the wrong way. He wound up in New Mexico, a place where all sorts of new musical collaborative possibilities came about.
AlHaj makes the most of those possibilities on the two discs that comprise Little Earth, having discovered how well his beloved Iraqi maqams (musical modes) could be shaped to fit other forms. Such becomes abundantly clear when AlHaj’s oud jams snugly alongside Bill Frisell’s guitar for 10 grassy minutes, accentuates the grandeur of Cape Verdean singer Maria de Barros on a Middle Eastern-flavored morna about moms, matches the rhythmic intricacy of master percussionist Glen Velez and finds complimentary space in conjunction with West African kora, Indian sitar and Chinese pipa (played by Yacouba Sissoko, Roshan Jamal Bhartiya and Liu Fang respectively).
Good guest turns by REM guitarist Peter Buck, didgeridoo ace Stephen Kent, Native American flutist/singer Robert Mirabal and a galaxy of others are to be found also. Yes, this is one of those true “World Music” albums.
Not every track is going to please every listener -I would have preferred more grooves and less atmosphere -but the mix of styles, instruments and ideas is always admirable at least and positively sparkling at best.
There’s a story behind each piece and the album as a whole, but I’m not going to try to recount any of them here. Suffice to say this Little Earth has a big heart and an ample amount of great music coming straight from it.
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