Master of the Oud

by Adel Salameh
Melodie France    www.playasound.com

 We don't get too many solo oud recordings around here: most folks have never heard one. The oud is associated with belly dance or Om Kaltoums' big orchestra, but like its cousin the guitar, there's a repertoire for solo oud music.

 Adel Salameh is a Palestinian now living in England who composes in what many would call a classic style. His music has many influences, including Indian, Persian and Turkish as well as Arabic forms.

 Unlike Western classical style, some improvisation is welcome in the Middle Eastern styles of 'classical music': thus no two performances of a piece are ever exactly the same.

 Listeners who have enjoyed classical guitar, especially lute, should give MASTER OF THE OUD a listen.

Belly Dance in Luxor
Belly Dance in Cairo

by Hussein El Masry
PlayaSound    www.playasound.com

 Outside of our history classes Americans don't really hear about Luxor, Egypt, which was a great city before Cairo was founded.

 On BELLY DANCE IN LUXOR Hussein el Masry attempts to get back to an older sound of the Oriental or belly dance stripping it of all the exotic clichés it has acquired over the years.

 El Masry is a master oud player, so naturally there's some great oud playing here; but he lets other shine also. Listen to the kanoon on cut #2 or the string section throughout - there is also some occasional vocal.

 Belly dance students will appreciate the 'back to the roots' style.

 Hussein el Masry is a composer for film and concert as well as a musician (lute and oud). He has studied Indian, Arab, Persian and European musical forms, but it's the music of his home town of Cairo which keeps calling him back to his roots.

 Surprisingly the oud does not dominate BELLY DANCE IN CAIRO on all cuts: hand drums so important to Oriental dance are strong throughout, harmonium (a small keyboard instrument with a bellows), plus occasional violins pop up from time to time.  Cut 3 features some solid acoustic oud work.

 Dancers will appreciate the lack of synthesizers and studio tricks: this is the real deal here.

 Cairo has been the dominant center of Arab music for over two hundred years now, with musicians coming from throughout hte Middle East, and Hussein El Masry has studied well.

 The flute work on Cut 5, 'Le-lital', is so haunting - then the drums and strings kick in and we're off.

Elysium for the Brave

Azam Ali, Elysium for the Brave (Six Degrees Records)

by Azam Ali
Six Degrees      www.sixdegreesrecords.com

 Azam Ali is a San Francisco-based singer/songwriter with one foot in the middle-East and the other in the future. Synthesizers, various Middle Eastern instruments and Australian didgeridoo give her music a very exotic, almost spacey sound.

 Azam Ali has a beautiful, sensual voice. Most but not all of her songs are sung in English on ELYSIUM FOR THE BRAVE: this was not true on her previous solo cd or any of her cds as the lead singer of Vas.

 The emphasis is on the sound, not the lyric.  Azam will stretch out a chord to fit the music, playing the voice much like a double-reed instrument. Listeners may not be able to decipher the lyrics but few will care.

 30 or 40 years ago we would describe this music as 'trippy': today its sound is simply ethereal and gorgeous.