Spectacular Arabian Nights Live

Kristjan Jarvi and Absolute Ensemble - Arabian Nights: Live at Town Hall NYC
Kristjan Jarvi’s Absolute Ensemble

Arabian Nights Live at Town Hall NYC (Enja Records, 2011)

Fans of Kristjan Jarvi’s Absolute Ensemble and their previous recordings Absolute Zawinul and Absolution will get the chance to wallow in the splendid sounds of Arabian Nights Live at Town Hall NYC come August 10th. Set for release on the Enja Records label, Arabian Nights is a sumptuous, exotic fusion where classical, jazz, world and Middle Eastern music meet in a kaleidoscopic melange of pure goodness.

The Absolute Arabian Nights Project flowered out of a post-September 11th memorial concert performed as part Musikfest Bremen in Bremen, Germany. UNESCO Artist for Peace and musician Marcel Khalife, musician Bassam Saba, composer and musician Dhafer Youssef and composer and musician Daniel Schnyder teamed up with Krisjan Jarvi and the Absolute Ensemble to create “an honest, apolitical statement of peace and unity in the music world” with the Absolute Arabian Nights Project. The project grew to fruition in 2007 with a performance at New York City’s Town Hall as part of the Not Just Jazz Series.

Of course, coming into the full-bodied, luxurious sound on Arabian Nights with a diverse group of musicians and musical traditions did have some bumps in the road. Absolute Ensemble flutist Hayley Melitta Reid explains working through a rehearsal process that was at times a chaotic mix of Arabic, English and French, “At one point it became clear that there were no words left to communicate. The only way was through the music. And so there was singing, and clapping, and foot stamping and even shouting. and then there was compromise. What could be a better political statement than that? To many people, the word compromise has a kind of stigma – an irritation that something was lost rather than gained. This couldn’t be less true. Only when we gave up what we had held onto for so long, were we able to fine peace and eventually great music.”

Plying the listener with Marcel Khalife’s oud and vocals, Bassam Saba’s nay and oud, Daniel Schnyder’s saxophone, Rami Khalife’s piano and the thirteen members of Absolute Ensemble under the direction of Mr. Jarvi, Arabian Nights seduces, cajoles, entrances and enthralls the listener from the opening strains of “Bahriyyeh” through to the closing notes of “Sabah El Leil.”

Steeped in a Middle Eastern meatiness, Arabian Nights seeks out jazzy edges and classical curves, adding to the addictive quality of the music. Dipping into this exotic musical landscape, Absolute Ensemble wows the listener with the jazz infused opening track “Bahriyyeh” before slipping into the stunning “La Priere de L’Absent,” a piece that opens dark and mysterious before blossoming into a poignant elegance full oud, woodwinds, brass and spare percussion.

Other Arabian Nights gems include “Amr I Bismiki” with its plumy dashes of call-and-response vocals between Mr. Khalife and the audience, the boldly worked “Da Kord,” written by Mr. Schnyder and the utterly stunning “Bayat,” written by Mrcel Khalife and “Concerto for Nay” written by Mr. Schnyder. Equally good are the tracks “Dawr Hindi” and “Nida’a.” Closing track “Sabah El Leil” with its classical curves carved out by delicate strings and bright brass against woodwinds and some dishy Middle Eastern percussion makes for a real crowd pleaser.

Arabian Nights is a gorgeous spectacular, decked out with superior musicianship and a brilliant vivacity.

Buy the album or MP3 downloads:

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.


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