Herald Times, CD Review >>
CD reviews: Music with local connections
For a flip side of the local-meets-international, Bloomington-based Salaam has mined the Middle Eastern traditions their music originates from and carefully researched such disappearing Iraqi cultural gems as the maqam, while experimenting with other music influences to give birth to the “Salaam” sound.
As the album opens with “Layla,” a song inspired by the lush heyday of Egyptian orchestras, violinist and spike fiddle player Dena El Saffar, percussionist Tim Moore, trumpeter and santoor-player (hammered dulcimer) Amir El Saffar and Turkish pianist and qanun-player Hakan Toker gleefully run through the musical past of the Arabic and Turkish world. Rather than reproducing tunes verbatim or modernizing them, “Salaam” infuses the music of quarter tones and gypsy flavors with American elements into a colorful tapestry all its own. It’s a musical swap for violins and violas, trumpet and santoor, bass and accordion, percussion and field organ, tabl and oud and baritone sax. Such tracks as “Yugrug” and “Nihavent Saz Semaisi” incorporate blues and jazz notes while still meandering down the traditional paths. “21st Century Gypsy” bounces with a brassy, ragtime feel.
Other songs on the CD include a 19th century Syrian “Muwashah,” 17th century Ottoman court music, early 20th century Turkish instrumental music, and a love song from Tunisia (left behind by a visiting scholar). Turning to improvisation, Salaam also has interspersed co-founder El Saffar’s own compositions — such as an Iraqi dance beat (“Chobi Party”), or pure spontaneity (“Taqsim Lami”) as well as one by its star pianist (“Mandira”).
Composed by Toker over various meters, the track is a fun, rapid-fire run through the ivories with a decidedly Middle Eastern bent. NPR listeners of “All Things Considered” may have caught a snippet of “Salaam” on the radio this weekend, when El Saffar was interviewed for a Ramadan special. 08/23/09