Wonderful Land (Bassam Saba, 2009)
Lebanese musician and composer Bassam Saba has stepped to the forefront with his debut recording Wonderful Land and the Bassam Saba Ensemble. As a master in the nay, Mr. Saba also plays oud, violin, buzuq, saz and western classical flute. He has worked with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Wadi El-Safi, Paul Simon, Sting, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock.
As well as working with his own Bassam Saba Ensemble, Mr. Saba directs the New York Arabic Orchestra, plays with the Silk Road Ensemble and Simon Shaheen’s Al-Qantar and Near Eastern Music Ensemble. His compositions and performance on Wonderful Land merely confirms his musical prowess.
Snaring influences from Arabic music, classical and Turkish music, Mr. Saba dazzles the listener with the darkly exotic, opulent opening track “Nirvana,” before moving on to the elegantly mysterious “Orange Dusk.” Playing nays, flutes, oud, saz, bansuri flute, buzuq and violin on Wonderful Land, Mr. Saba’s woodwind lines float through the air like threads of smoke. Accompanied by Megan Gould on violin and viola, William Martina on cello, Peter Slavov on contrabass and percussionists April Centrone and Jamey Haddad, Mr. Saba creates deceptively simple tracks suffused with sublime skill.
Each and every track pulls the listener into a maze of Middle Eastern music maze where each curve and turn unveils something equally spectacular. Title track “Wonderful Land” possesses a richly Turkish air, while “U Vrot Vastoka” thrums with some spectacular percussion and flute lines. Other gems on Wonderful Land include the richly worked “Breeze from the South,” the achingly poignant “Waltz to My Father” and the exotic “Story of the Dried River.”
Wonderful Land is richly rewarding, slipping from one artfully hypnotic track to another. Mr. Saba has set a wonderful precedent for upcoming recordings.
Buy the album: Wonderful Land
Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.