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På skive


«Al Azraqayn»

The Karkhana septet is a Middle-Eastern cosmic, free super-group, relying on seductive oriental melodies and hypnotic rhythmic patterns but twists these elements into its own psychedelic, freak-out world. This septet features Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj (who did the cover art, known from the «A» Trio and Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra), fellow Lebanese guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui (who also plays in the «A» Trio) and bassist Tony Elieh (who also plays in Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra), Egyptian oud player and guitarist Sam Shalabi (who plays in Land of Kush and The Dwarves of East Agouza) and keyboardist Maurice Louca (who also plays in The Dwarves of East Agouza), Turkish reeds player Umut Çağlar (of Konstrukt) and Chicagoan (but with Assyrian roots) drummer-percussionist Michael Zerang, known for his work with Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Hamid Drake. «Al Azraqayn» is the seventh album of Karkhana since this band convened for the first time in Beirut in 2014. It is a limited-edition double vinyl (plus download option), recorded live at Bimhuis, Amsterdam, in July 2019.

Karkhana is titled after the Turkish word كرخانة that alludes to the selling of taboo, often prostitution, but today is often used to describe wild parties. The live setting fits perfectly the intense and adventurous spirit of Karkhana. The performance begins with a beautiful oud solo of Shalabi, introducing the hypnotic, sensual theme of the first piece, «Nafas» (not to be mistaken with Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem’s album by the same name), and Karkhana slow-cooking aesthetics that patiently seek ecstatic catharsis. On this piece and the following pieces Karkhana enriches its Middle-Eastern roots with elements of modern jazz, free-improv and art-rock.

The following «Sidi Mansour» is based on a popular Tunisian folk theme by Cheikh Mohamed Boudaya (was covered by Robert Plant, among many others, and was even the basis for Boney M’ «Ma Baker’». Karkhana performed it on its last album, «Bitter Balls», Unrock, 2020). Zerang introduces the captivating, repetitive theme with a brilliant drum solo and later Karkhana improvises on the theme and navigates it into new, uncharted territories. Karkhana visits vintage, cosmic rock, plays with acrobatic distorted and noisy guitar duels and experiments with free-improvisation, before Zerang and Elieh anchor these wild detours with his irresistible pulse.

«Huli» begins with Kerbaj and Çağlar employing extended breathing techniques on the trumpet, double reeds and bamboo flutes, but then Shalabi and Sehnaoui suggest a surf-rock twist to a retro, oriental theme, Çağlar injects Turkish colors to the mix and Kerbaj and Louca sent it to outer space with their electronics and synth, and it gets wilder and wilder. «Al Sal3awa» revolves around a passionate duet of Shalabi’s oud and Zerang’s darbouka, but ornamented with otherworldly eerie sounds and noises that somehow dance and storm around this enchanting duet. The following «Containment» builds on this alien storm but quickly shifts into a game-like free-improvisation with Shalabi’s oud at the center, attempting to answer the sonic distractions of other Karkhan’s musicians, and finally settles on an addictive theme led by Shalabi and Sehnaoui guitars. The last «Rock Farock» (originally from «Bitter Balls») brings Karkhana to its ecstatic catharsis and offers a genre-defying, wild celebration of timeless sounds, colors and rhythms that, no doubt, shook the Bimhuis upside down.

The Middle East is, unfortunately, far from being free, but in the meantime, Karkhana offers us its own inclusive and colorful vision of how free Middle-Eastern music may sound like.

Eyal Hareuveni  

Mazen Kerbaj (tp, objects, elec), Umut Çağlar (double reeds, bamboo fl), Sam Shalabi (oud, el-g), Sharif Sehnaoui (el-g), Maurice Louca (org, synth), Tony Elieh (el-b), Michael Zerang (dr, darbouka)


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