Hindi Zahra

Homeland is Hindi Zahra’s follow-up to her 2010 debut album, the internationally acclaimed, best-selling Handmade. Then, Zahra was compared with Billie Holiday and Handmade described as “mesmerising elemental folk, a desert blues with an African-American twist.”

Zahra was desperate to record a Moroccan album and so Homeland was conceived: more than the sound of her home country and her life without borders, this eleven track collection is also a diary.

Zahra chose an isolated Moroccan retreat and gradually parts of the creative puzzle, including her Berber roots (the Berbers are a Caucasian group of people ethnically indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley), the music of Brazil, the Cape Verde, India and Iran, came together like pools of rain.

Rhythms are usually the starting point for Zahra, who is obsessed with percussion, and she began collaborating with Rhani Krija, the Moroccan drummer who brought his instruments collected from around the world, and they recorded everything that moved: both inside and outside the studio.

The songs on Homeland, thus, were recorded in layers with their roots in various sources: in a riad in Morocco, in Córdoba with Spanish gypsy musicians, at the studio in the cosmopolitan center of Paris. This international tapestry is most in evident with Un Jour, Zahra’s first song in French, and an echo of the classic Parisian rainy day reflections of Françoise Hardy,

To The Forces was recorded with Tuareg guitarist Bombino (Omara Moctar) and it is Zahra at her most powerful and hypnotic, the percussion and her yearning voice mesh like the swirling air currents of a storm. If you are up for a seductive beauty which transports, look no further than Homeland.

 

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Aki Rissanen-Jussi Lehtonen Quartet with Dave Liebman

 

Biographical Connections

Biographical Connections is what I’d call a jazz love in. The mood, optimistic and rooted in some golden moments of the history of the genre – Dave Liebman playing with Lars Werner as far back as 1967 – is almost an excuse for the Jussi Lehtonen Quartet to let loose.

Scriabin, a homage to the Russian composer, immediately harnesses Liebman’s sax with long flowing lines, accentuated by Aki Rissanen’s driving piano, each a comfortable foil for the other, a demonstration of the quartet’s facility for period of cool grace between the outbursts.

And if Scriabin is frantic, Three A’s is the opposite, with the controlled passion of Jori Huhtala’s bass and Jussi Lehtonen’s percussive beat achieving what Lehtonen refers to as a counterpart between swinging and temperance: their’s is the primer for quite superb licks from Liebman, the maestro.

Recent recordings by poLO and the Kari Ikonen Trio have shown a predilection for a so called full on live approach in the studio, and the Aki Rissanen-Jussi Lehtonen Quartet, Ozella stable mates with their Finnish compatriots, the Kari Ikonen Trio, have repeated the feat.

The idea of course is to bring out a tight and flexible interplay between the musicians, but to do that you need the appropriate compositions, and Biographical Connections contains ten of them, including one of my favourites, the Lehtonen composition, Internal Affairs.

While you can sense a pervasive mood of Finnish melancholy in Scriabin and Internal Affairs, the exploration of the past, particularly Liebman’s link with Miles Davis in the wake of his Bitches Brew era, surfaces with elan on In the Corner, which opens like any number from Brubeck’s Time Out.

Rissanen revisits Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge with the longest track, Pont Marie, and the overall feel of a lack of polish in the studio, and that’s a positive, abetted by slow simmering mid-tempo fantasies and experimental sonority effloresces in Gong

John F. Deane

A Faith & Poetry Memoir

This is a faith and poetry memoir, in which you are never allowed to forget, for a moment, the faith aspect. I don’t think there is a single page without a reference to God which, if you are not that way inclined, is frustrating, because, technically, Deane is a very good poet.

And I had hoped, one could almost say prayed, that, admiration aside for his skill as a writer, I would fine some solace, even empathy, after 229 pages of soul searching, in his evolution from young Achill Island priest in the making to the poet who, alongside Roger Bly, made Tomas Transtromer, accessible in English.

But, tethered thus by the ankle, Deane can’t leave his faith alone for a minute, which is a pity, because when he escapes into the realms of poetic explication, such as his epiphany encountering Transtromer and Denise Levertov, he is enlightening, and like a two year old with his brother’s toy. The tragic death of his first wife, from Lupus, a serious illness most of his readers would be unaware of and would therefore have an interest in, is brushed aside. Why?

But God, as we know, is omnipresent, to those who seek him, and so it proves, page after page, in this handsomely produced memoir. He writes, after twinning the necessity of hatching meaningful poetry ‘ for our time’ with coming closer to Jesus Christ, that he is irritated when ‘atheists are basically encouraged to announce their atheism with a certain panache…but a Christian writer draws some opprobrium.’

Therefore, emerging from a walk almost in a state of prayer in a Californian forest of tall redwoods, described as steeple tall and akin to a vast Gothic cathedral, is a golden moment, because he had dipped his fingers into a sacred font and was fortified by sacrament. It sounds beautiful, but the word seems alien to the poet. An owl is compared to Methuselah, whom I was educated by wikipedia, lived the longest in the Hebrew Bible. I won’t forget that in a hurry.

Deane admits that he was brought up in the Catholic Church to be impermeable to the things of the world and that his focus should be heaven, but by the time he revisits what Levertov refers to as the awareness of poetry to the mystery of being, I was way beyond the point of rescue. A pity really, but then, perhaps not. I tried to finish The Deer’s Cry, in which God is mentioned ten times and Christ sixteen, and failed abjectly.

 

 

Elias Khoury

The Broken Mirrors

Take your pick, but either Karim Shammas, who has returned to Beirut from France, or his father, Nasri, are the most memorable philanderers to have graced the pages of a novel bursting  through the seams of recent history since Milan Kundera unveiled Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Like Tomas, both Karim and Nasri have access to a conveyor belt of lovers because they are practitioners of medicine: a common thread runs through both novels, a typical Kundera theme, namely the lightness of love and sex, and that which occurs once is unlikely to repeat itself.

Why does Karim forsake the safety of France for a city still reeling from a vicious civil war? Is it to kick over the traces of old love affairs or to establish the truth about his father’s death? Is his brother, the less than sharp and once make-believe pharmacist, Nasim, in any way complicit?

Khoury was born into a Christian family in Beirut where he fought, and was injured, during the protracted and bloody Lebanese Civil War. He is the author of over a dozen novels, was a researcher for the PLO, has a background in journalism, and his latest novel is translated by the award winning Humphrey Davies.

What is beautiful and immediate about Khoury’s prose is his depiction of Beirut, easily on a par with Pamuk and Istanbul or Marc Pastor and Barcelona: there is a shifting of the tenses as characters appear and disappear whilst the weft of the tale of Karim’s return untangles.

Those who are dead are very much alive, and Khoury never misses an opportunity to fill in the background of even  minor characters, and gradually the pieces slot into their place in the jigsaw: who is the legendary phantom of the civil war, known as the ghost? What is to be discovered about the death of his father? What has yet to surface from past love affairs?

 

 

Kari Ikonen Trio

 

Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories

Is Finnish composer Karu Ikonen the Hieronymous Bosch of piano jazz? The cover of Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories suggests so, because both Bosch and Ikonen marry beauty and the beast.

Though, in the case of Ikonen and his impeccable trio, beast should read as strange, or quirky, for Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories, is a ten track voyage through the weird and the wonderful, with a fascinating take on John Coltrane’s Countdown.

Being Finnish, Ikonen enjoys contrasts and extreme changes, and he has set out with some determination to deploy the magic of the contrary with this recording which was completed in two days without post production to iron out mistakes.

It’s a novel approach and its success depends whether you buy into the aesthetic of Beauteous Tales and the improvisation of Offbeat Stories.

Apparently, the motivation behind an unrefined recording was a means of liberating the trio from the bloodless aesthetic of contemporary jazz. Yet, a tune like Astri Pes, a conventional piece for piano tuns out to be anything but once Armenian bassist Ara Yaralyan attaches a soft accompaniment.

This is the Ikonen trio as its most relaxed and the tempo and mood extends to Septentrional: Markku Ounaskari on drums is almost anonymous until he drifts in after two minutes and the trio has muscle. They like to meander and alter course at will, fired in one direction or another by Yaralyan or Ikonen.

So, the contrast between control and playing it safe and taking risks and pushing the boat out into rougher waters, results in a commitment to the flip side of perfunctory jazz. If the improvisations have the pace of a pugilist sussing out his opponent it is because the Kari Ikonen Trio decided the final result of their recordings over 48 hours completely unrefined.

For the listener it is akin to eavesdropping on a spectacular session by three quite superb musicians, being a witness to the conception of each experiment, which naturally reaches a zenith with their take on Coltrane’s Countdown, the ideal primer for one of the many high points of Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Strories, the Ikonen composition, The 4th Part of the Harbour Trilogy: Yaralyan extracts a soulful hunger from his bow, a deft resonance bordering on dampening, but always on the same page as Ikonen.

 

 

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The Broken Mirrors

By Elias Khoury

(MacLehose)

Review: Tom Mooney

 

 

Take your pick, but either Karim Shammas, who has returned to Beirut from France, or his father, Nasri, are the most memorable philanderers to have graced the pages of a novel bursting  through the seams of recent history since Milan Kundera unveiled Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

 

Like Tomas, both Karim and Nasri have access to a conveyor belt of lovers because they are practitioners of medicine: a common thread runs through both novels, a typical Kundera theme, namely the lightness of love and sex, and that which occurs once is unlikely to repeat itself.

 

Why does Karim forsake the safety of France for a city still reeling from a vicious civil war? Is it to kick over the traces of old love affairs or to establish the truth about his father’s death? Is his brother, the less than sharp and once make-believe pharmacist, Nasim, in any way complicit?

 

Khoury was born into a Christian family in Beirut where he fought, and was injured, during the protracted and bloody Lebanese Civil War. He is the author of over a dozen novels, was a researcher for the PLO, has a background in journalism, and his latest novel is translated by the award winning Humphrey Davies.

 

What is beautiful and immediate about Khoury’s prose is his depiction of Beirut, easily on a par with Pamuk and Istanbul or Marc Pastor and Barcelona: there is a shifting of the tenses as characters appear and disappear whilst the weft of the tale of Karim’s return untangles.

 

Those who are dead are very much alive, and Khoury never misses an opportunity to fill in the background of even  minor characters, and gradually the pieces slot into their place in the jigsaw: who is the legendary phantom of the civil war, known as the ghost? What is to be discovered about the death of his father? What has yet to surface from past love affairs?