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Sample Track 1:
"Alexander's Regrets" from Road Poem
Sample Track 2:
"Looking for Paradhisi" from Road Poem
Layer 2
Wahid, Road Poem The Path of Nuance:
Wahid Finds New Ways to Make Age-Old Instruments Speak on Road Poem

The oud (Middle Eastern lute) and its frequent companion—delicate, tuneful percussion—can simultaneously evoke subtle moments and intense drama: the reflections of a conqueror, the joy of an eloping bride, the faded beauty of an island village.

The California-based instrumental duo Wahid has taken full measure of this subtlety, thanks to a keen sense of their ancient instruments’ sonic possibilities.

Wahid unites two seasoned jazz, rock, and world musicians—Dimitris Mahlis (oud) and Chris Wabich (frame drums, percussion)—who have performed and recorded with a veritable who’s who of the Los Angeles music scene. After crossing paths many times, the two sonic explorers found new ways to make their instruments speak. Together, they draw on deep layers of delicate expertise laid down over centuries.

Captured live on Road Poem (release: September 25, 2012), their dynamic dialogue embraces improvisation and contemporary ideas, while gracefully reflecting Eastern Mediterranean traditions. These roots, expressed with worldly flair, find full expression in duo’s purposefully intimate arrangements.

“With larger ensembles, you often face a density problem,” explains Wabich. “Traditionally, our instruments have a lot of nuance. You have to have enough space, enough stillness to really get at that.”

Wahid takes this poetic nuance on the road, performing in late September and early October on the West Coast, including the Bay Area and Napa, CA.

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“There’s something so liberating about a dialogue between two people,” reflects Mahlis. “The more you play music, the more you realize that there’s an inherent dynamic in ensembles of different sizes. A duo is liberating. You can turn on a dime.”

Wabich and Mahlis have a history of great musical nimbleness. A student of Turkish oud master Ustad Necati Celik, Mahlis has played with global stars from Bollywood composer extraordinaire A.R. Rahman, to jazz trumpeter Freddy Hubbard to popular Greek performers like Dionyssios Savoppoulos, and Thanassis Papakonstantinou, when not contributing to major feature film soundtracks. Wabich has recorded with everyone from Leonard Cohen to Ludacris, and performed with a diverse range of international lights, like Turkish legend Omar Faruk and revered jazz vocalist Mark Murphy.

When the two accomplished, versatile players met during rehearsals for a large-scale, full-on jazz fusion project, they struck up a friendship, meeting up occasionally to practice together. The sessions soon evolved into a serious collaboration, one that satisfied their shared longing for a different, deeper approach to their instruments.

“We’re drawing on Byzantine modes and the Turkish maqam (scale and melody) system in our compositions,” Mahlis notes. “I grew up hearing traditional Greek and Byzantine liturgical music, as my father was Greek Orthodox cantor. That tradition is all vocal, without instrumental accompaniment, but the melodic structures and intervals are the same as Turkish classical music.”

This background has inspired not simply the harmonic or modal basis of Mahlis’s compositions, but a key guiding element at their heart: the evocative, singing melody. “In my composing, I’m always looking for a melody that moves me. In Eastern music, we have a richness of melody, whereas in Western composition, we have made great strides in harmony. I’m trying to bring those elements together, using the strength of the melody. I look at each string on the oud as a vocal cord. That changes the intonation and phrasing.”

This nexus of the personal and the historical, of emotive melodic and complex harmonic structures, lies at the heart of Wahid’s instrumental originals. Mahlis reflects on his father’s evocatively named village on the Greek island of Rhodes (“Looking for Paradhisi”) and puts the duo through its paces tracing the madcap, emotional elopement of lovers (“Steal the Bride”). Wahid can summon the imagined musings of that still controversial Macedonian conqueror (“Alexander’s Regret”), the bittersweet and defiant life of a fearless Greek composer (“The Outcast,” dedicated to the life and work of Mikis Theodorakis), the graceful divinity of a god in repose (“Indra Reclines”).

Performing as a veritable one-man-band—where quartet of bass and percussion players would traditionally play—Wabich’s highly in-tune bass frame drumsadd another, spirited dimension to Mahlis’s dignified playing. He finds a shifting rhythmic complement based on traditional beats for every melodic element of “Steal the Bride,” lending the piece a drive reminiscent of Balkan wedding music. On pieces like “Protoleia” (“First Light”), Wabich finds a subtle, funky bump that augments the oud’s rich exploration of a Turkish maqam mode.

A central part of Wabich’s approach is the highly in-tune frame drums he has perfected. “The way frame drums are traditionally made and played is always out of tune,” Wabich says. “You can approximate the pitch, but as you bring the drum closer to the body, it goes flat, as much as a half-step off. The drums I made are really oversized for the note I need. You need to have more tension on the drum so that the harmonic is finally in tune and really close to a perfect octave. I don’t’ have to mute the sound to prevent that out-of-tune moment. The sound can naturally decay.”

Technical savvy and traditional grounding aside, Wahid have gained a deep sense of each other’s musical thoughts, which leads to fluid, gorgeous improvisation and a profound live experience for performers and audiences.

“Chris and I have developed our own dialect,” Mahlis muses. “We can read each other very well. And there’s a place I go to when we’re playing together that makes me dig deeper.

“The liberating part of Wahid is also very difficult, and we’re always asking how we can find perfection in this music,” Wabich adds. “Sometimes things start flying around, we get off the ground, and audience members get to an intense spiritual place when we play. And so do we.”

<< release: 09/04/12 >>