Fusing Jazz with Middle Eastern
Souren’s "Taksim, It’s About Time"
Two CDs Reviewed by Amina Goodyear
posted July 16, 2010
The CD "Taksim – It’s About Time" is composed and produced by Souren "Sudan" Baronian, a well-known Middle Eastern musician living in the New York area and the CD "Beginning – The Vince Delgado Quintet" is composed and produced by Vince Delgado, a well-known Middle Eastern musician living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
These two cities, New York and San Francisco, are important centers for music worldwide, including Middle Eastern and Jazz. Jazz spawned and grew in these two parallel worlds, and many of the important names you hear in Jazz got their start in one of these two cities. Later, these musicians went on to inspire and influence others.
The two CDs being reviewed show some of these influences and also show how two musicians living on two separate coasts can, and will, in turn, inspire others with their new genre of music: Middle Eastern Jazz Fusion.
Without going into detail about the two CDs here (for that you can read the reviews that follow) I’d like to list some similarities between the two musician/composers:
- Both musicians are well established in both the Jazz and Middle Eastern music circles in their communities.
- Both musicians composed all of the pieces in their respective CDs.
- Both CDs establish the Jazz theme with a strong first song and the subsequent songs flow easily from one piece to the next.
- Both CDs sound like live recordings, but in fact were recorded in a studio.
- Both use odd rhythms that are Middle Eastern rhythms.
- "Taksim" is Middle Eastern with a Jazz flavor.
- "Beginning" is Jazz with a Middle Eastern flavor.
Personally, I have always dreamed of dancing with a band that is heavy in percussion like the bands I’ve heard in Egypt, using tabla, dahola, riq, muzhar and duf but with the addition of bongos, congas, set drum and cowbells. My dream band would also have horns, particularly the saxophone and trumpet. I could place an ad for such musicians to form my band, or maybe I could just ask Souren "Sudan" Baronian and Vince Delgado to meet somewhere in the middle and join forces to form my dream band, using their musicians. I would call it "East Coast meets West Coast and plays the Middle East". For me, this would be a dream come true: a true collaboration of Middle Eastern, Latin, Bebop, Afro, and Jazz fusion with multiple drummers. At the very least, I would just love to hear the two bands join in a jam!
However, in all reality, now in this world when we fuse a Belly dance with everything as well as the kitchen sink (pots, spoons, mop handles, bowls, vases, trays) why not consider seriously performing to one or both of these Jazz fusion CDs played by some of the most respected Middle Eastern musicians in the field? If dancers perform already with fusion music, why not use music that is specifically fusion?
Taksim-It’s About Time
A CD by Souren "Sudan" Baronian
You enter the time machine and it is the 1950s.You’re in a black and white movie in a Jazz club in New York, a dark, smoky club below street level, the smell of reefer emanating in the near distance. You have a cocktail glass in your hand and your eyes are closed. You’re grooving on the music and the musicians on stage; they are playing Jazz.
Jazz is that truly American art form that created an international phenomenon in the early 20th century: Jazz, with rhythms originating from deepest Africa, traveling and improvising from the southern part of the U.S. Jazz speaks a language of experiences and emotions and invites the audience to interact either in their soul and being or vocally; Jazz, it’s that idiom that is probably the most significant form of musical expression in American culture today.
The musicians have just finished a set and the next set is starting. The music is jumping; they are playing Bebop.
Bebop is an exciting and complex evolution of Jazz. It was developed during the 1940s, in the beginning of World War II, and was characterized by musicians of dazzling skill playing their instruments with great agility in rapid tempo while improvising on the melody and harmonic structure of the pieces performed.
A typical bebop combo would consist of a saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums and piano. The word "bebop" usually refers to the vocables or nonsense syllables that we know as "scat" singing.
In Sudan Baronian’s CD Taksim – It’s About Time, the combo is a saxophone and clarinet, oud, bass, drum set, conga drum, doumbek drum and a riq. Taksim also introduces "scat" singing in several tracks.
After the drum, the saxophone is my favorite instrument for listening. As a teenager, I remember being thrilled at meeting R&B sax player Earl Bostic in a record store. I was a wannabe "beatnik" with bongo drums, and as a poetry writing teenager, wearing black and the requisite black beret, I would "club" in San Francisco’s Tenderloin at a Jazz club called The Blackhawk. On Sunday afternoons they allowed minors to sit in a penned area called the "peanut gallery" so that they could enjoy musicians such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Mongo Santamaria and Cal Tjader.
Although I don’t know him, I imagine a teenaged Souren "Sudan" Baronian in similar circumstances frequenting jazz clubs on 52nd Street in New York. Since he is Armenian, he also frequented the Middle Eastern clubs on Eighth Street playing with Arabic, Turkish and Armenian musicians. I was a mouse and too meek to actually meet any Jazz greats, but Sudan Baronian did. He not only met them, he studied with them; and their influence on his playing is definitely evident in Taksim. Just as sax bebop great, Charlie Parker, fused Jazz with other musical styles from classical to Latin; Souren has fused his music from traditional to bebop to Middle Eastern and Armenian.
Many Jazz musicians do not read music when they perform. This is also a common phenomenon among Middle Eastern musicians. In fact, Om Kalsoum insisted that her musicians commit her music to memory in order to better feel the music. In both genres, much of the music depends on these feelings and intuitions. Then, the musicians can create spontaneously exceedingly intricate forms, themes and variations. (Saltanah=The creative process of inducing musical ecstasy.) In this way, the improvisation or taqsim seems to come from nowhere.
In Jazz improvisation there is the spontaneous creation of new melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes. The soloist may depend on the original tune, or on the possibilities of the chords’ harmonies.
Taqsim is a solo instrumental improvisation within a piece of music. It is sometimes used as a bridge to connect one maqam (a system of melodic modes) or emotion to another within a piece of music. It is also a vehicle in which a soloist may show off his expertise and musicality and creativity through spontaneous improvisations. More than one instrument may play a taqsim within a piece. Sometimes the soloists may have an interchange and musical "conversations" with each other and at other times the taqsim may be bridged by recurring orders or themes within the main melody.
You just stepped out of the time machine and it’s 2010 and you’re in a dark, smoky club below street level; there is the sweet smell of apple tobacco wafting through the shisha-laden room, you have a glass of tea on the table and your eyes are closed. You’re grooving on the music and the musicians on the CD being played. They are playing Jazz. It’s Souren "Sudan" Baronian and his group called Taksim. However, this Jazz has a new element: something old. Also, it is something timeless. It is something upbeat, yet pensive…
The CD Taksim has two major players who actually create the majority of the taqaseem. One is Sudan Baronian and the other is Haig Manoukian. These two musicians are Armenian and this gives the CD an unmistakable Armenian flavor. While Haig continues to deliver the traditional with the oud, Sudan provides a Bebop Jazz sound with his saxophone. The final outcome of the CD, especially with the addition of the other instruments, is definitely a Bebop Jazz fusion.
The opening song definitely recognizes the Jazz element in this CD. It is a strong introduction to what is to come. The mood is set. Each piece very naturally flows into the next. This is not your typical Belly dance CD. In fact, although many pieces can be used for Belly dance fusion performances, it is not a CD produced for Belly dance. In traditional Middle Eastern music (pre-Abdul Wahab), a taqsim is usually played by the oud, violin, qanoun or nay. In this case, although the oud does play a taqsim or two or three, most of the taqsim is played by the saxophone, with a few exchanges by other instruments such as the clarinet.
Tracks #1 "Floating Goat" and #4 "Transition" take me to "Live at the Village Gate" in Greenwich Village with Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria. I think of Afro Blue. I think driving and pulsing. I think of Middle Eastern rhythms and compare it to perhaps its 6/8 African neighbors. The sax and oud taqsim in "Floating Goat" definitely establishes this CD as Bebop and "Transition", indeed, transitions from the Armenian (almost Klezmer) with the clarinet to a Bebop, Latin Jazz feel. Because the rhythms in these two tracks include 4/4 and 6/8, the bells, the conga and the drum set, in addition to great solos, play a great canvas for the soloists to create a taqsim.
Tracks #3 "9 Lives" and #6 "Pleasant Peasants" invoke a Jazz fusion world. The 9/8 rhythm in "9 Lives" and the 11/8 rhythm in "Pleasant Peasants" invite one to try a little fusion dancing. The scat singing in tracks #3 and #6 and Baronian’s riq solo and subsequent doumbek exchange in "Pleasant Peasants" are quite fun and challenging.
Track #2 "Hitch-hiker" and #5 "Rooster" are my favorites at this time. "Hitch-hiker" talks to me of jasmine perfumed sultry nights and love and then "Rooster" takes me to the French Quarter in New Orleans. In these two pieces, there is a sweet slow Southern drawl, and the voice, and the saxophone and oud taqsim really speak to me.
You are now being taken on an emotional journey on the Silk Road. You are traveling from the West to the East. Perhaps you are even thinking of that documentary silent film (1925) called Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life where a tribe of 50,000 and their countless sheep and animals endure extreme hardship as they trek barefoot over mountain ranges in the snow to find grazing pastures. These underlying struggles #7 "Last Place on Earth" end with the feeling of hope #8 "8th Sky". There are nice taksim exchanges in "Last Place on Earth" which are performed in the 10/8 time signature. The rhythm 10/8, sometimes called Samai which means to listen, does exactly that. It told me to listen, and I heard and felt all the emotions of "8th Sky".
Fortunately, this dark smoky club below street level is all in my mind. It never closes and there is no cover charge; so, when the CD is over, I just press play, and I once more enjoy Taksim. "Play it again, Sudan!"
A CD by The Vince Delgado Quintet
One of the most difficult reviews to write is a review of a CD by someone close to you. It is even more difficult when it is connected to one’s teacher or a relative. In this case, this CD involves both.
The two musicians of which I speak are my first Arabic drum teacher, Vince Delgado and my daughter, Susu Pampanin. While being objective I consider these two musicians to be master percussionists in their field and Vince – the very essence of creativity and musicianship. His life is music and his legacy is his students, his music and his compositions. All the songs on this CD are his compositions and reflect the very diverse nature of his being.
The CD, Beginning is not your typical Middle Eastern music CD. When I first played it, I thought I was listening to a Middle Eastern inspired Latin Jazz album. Through love, motivation, dedication and tenacity percussionists Vince and Susu and the other musicians Matt Eakle (flute), Joey Edelman (piano) and Tom Shader (bass) have succeeded in crossing cultural boundaries. None of them are, in fact, Middle Eastern or Latin born.
1. My My Ym Ym – This is a great first song. It establishes the theme of the CD, which is a natural fusion of Latin Afro Jazz. It begins with the drum and then the bass enters to say this is Jazz. Next the flute says, no, maybe it’s Afro Jazz, or maybe possibly Latin Afro Jazz. But, is it Middle Eastern? I dunno. Maybe, yes, maybe, no, maybe yes, maybe no, I dunno. But I do know that it is an upbeat familiar 4/4 and the musicians are very comfortable playing in this genre. They are having fun with conga – bongo exchanges and flute, piano and bass solos. All the solos flow easily from one to another.
And I kind of like it.
2. Scheherezade – The silver flute begins this piece and it sounds like a ney, nay – it sounds like a kawala. Well, it sounds like some sort of Arabic cane flute. After a long introduction with a drone in the background (about 3 1/2 minutes), the drums enter in a 4/4/ beat followed by the piano. Everything is grooving. It has a bolero feel. When the melody starts, I expect to be transported to the Middle East. My mind wanders to decades ago and I’m in a club overlooking San Francisco Bay. I’m listening to pianist Vince Guaraldi and I’m watching the shimmering black water glisten periodically from the reflections of the moon. I’m not in the Middle East, but I’m thinking of it. The drums sway back and forth, vacillating between a Middle Eastern and a Latin Jazz feel. The flute does a great solo. I would like to say it is a flute taqsim on top of the ard (or floor) of the drums and piano. All the musicians solo at some point. This piece would make a good balletic, Middle Eastern tableau.
It is very danceable.
3. Dangled Voice – This is a tune in 7/8 time. This odd time signature actually gets going rhythm wise. The flute and bass line are hypnotic and allow the drums to really dance. It reminds me of Mongo Santamaria in an Afro Jazz sort of way. But it is intellectual. The 7 count is accented two different ways – one for the slow tempo and another when the tempo increases. All the instruments including the piano, bass and flute incorporate the accent and the melody. There is a good riq and drum solo. I can picture someone bellydancing to this.
4. Genie Love – This danceable, tranceable piece is rather absorbed in essence. The rhythm is an 8/4 Masmoudi Kabir. But it sounds like a slow slow Masmoudi Sagheer aka Beledi. It has more of a beledi feel as it does not have the typical Masmoudi accent. – This moody piece starts with the piano and continues on with the flute. Both are very slow and hypnotic. I visualize a veil dance, or perhaps a group choreography in slow motion to match and enhance the soulfulness of a solo performer.
5. Live God Dance – The liner notes say this is loosely based on a North Indian scale. But I hear Martin Denny (he played a combination of ethnic styles and included South Pacific, Oriental and Latin rhythms) and Les Baxter (a leading figure in the history of exotica). I’m in a Tiki bar with a fruit drink and a paper umbrella spearing a maraschino cherry, I hear "Quiet Village" sans the jungle noises. I’m a dancer in the 50’s performing to "Primitiva" or is it "Ritual of the Savage"?
6. Once’ – This Guaguanco in 11/8 time is "huh, what is it?" A Latin beat but not really? Vince is cerebral and likes to play with numbers. It’s a mind game – can you hear the difference between an 11/8 and a polyrhythmic rumba structure? Well – Vince can and that’s a Middle Eastern thing to do… play with subtle ways where we think it’s one thing and it turns out to be something else. I also love the games between the piano chords and the solos.
7. Coral E in Sea – This 10/8 classic sounding piece is very danceable.
It is very Middle Eastern in sentiment – very soulful and loving. It conjures up many visuals and feelings. I love music that makes you dream and this one surely does. The bass makes this haunting and longing; almost miserable (and we do know how Arabs love to be miserable in love). I hear the word eshouq, eshouq and imagine her hands on her cheeks as she is longing and waiting for her love. And then the word esqini as she is waiting to have her "fires" quenched. Yes, there is a love, a deep and tender love in this slow dance.
8. Seftali’s Delight – This 9/8 to 6/8 to 4/4 dance piece has mood changes along with the rhythm changes. In this piece the piano, which is a percussion instrument, also explores the various ways of playing and counting. Forever liking to play with words (as is evident in most of the names of the pieces in this CD) Vince calls this Hollywood Hijaz. I ask. Is it Turkish, Arabic, Indian? Is it Jazz? Is it Hollywood? Is it all of the above? It is a movie for the imagination. It is the story of the Silk Road with diaphanous chiffon pantalooned dancing girls dancing from one rhythm to another. They are smooth in their transitions and the instruments, including the percussion, vamp continuously allowing the dancers to use those hips. I personally love the bass, flute and piano in this piece.
My favorite pieces are Genie Love and Coral E in Sea – two meaningful sensitive dance pieces that beckon to my imagination.
Schherezade, and Dangled Voice also stimulate the senses. Alone or paired together, they would make a wonderful "Arabian Nights" ballet.
Vince created an intellectual yet emotional and moving Jazz fusion CD. The breaks and vamps in various pieces are a "Vince" signature. This CD definitely has Afro Latin Jazz spices with a bit of Middle Eastern for that added flavor. It is highly recommended for the fusion rather than the traditional belly dancers.
The drums are inside the music and keep all the improvisations flowing. They make the music sound like alive and in turn empower all the musicians to maintain that "live music" sound. None of the instruments including the drum overpower. But the drums for sure keep the time and set the ground from the bottom up. Vince uses only real skin drums, as they are extensions of himself. This is evident. The sound is clear and clean and natural.
Mabruk ya Vince, for your compositions.
These are two excellent CDs for your listening and fusion dancing pleasure.
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Aug 8, 2010 - 09:08:04
Why isn’t there a link to buy the CDs on the spot? With this review I want instant gratification. Now I have to LOOK to see how to buy them … Lynette, you should make shopping easy 🙂
Aug 10, 2010 - 09:08:42
Yasmin- did you see the link above under product purchase info?
Thats the best I could find. They aren’t listed under Amazon and I would think that the artist gets to keep more of the profits if you buy directly from them. Maybe Mher at Hollywood records might carry them too.