Sabîl Zabad, l'écume des nuits (Zabad, Twilight Tide)
Latitudes / harmonia mundi
Review by Tyran Grillo
Zabad is the third studio outing from the duo known as Sabîl. Oudist Ahmad Al Kathib (the project's composer and conceptual heart) and percussionist Youssef Hbeisch evoke unlimited landscapes by limited means, and here welcome the fresh continents of Elie Khoury on buzuq (a long-necked lute akin to the Greek bouzouki) and Hubert Dupont on double-bass. Although Ahmad plays in a distinctly Baghdadian style, fans of Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem will be in good hands, as the music coaxes modern flora from traditional seeds.
To my ears, such projects tend to travel too many unexpected paths for the mere sake of doing so, as if afraid of losing attention in the absence of major surprises. These musicians, however, build unbroken trust with listeners by satisfying deep expectations. A double-bassist, for example, may seem out of place among this roster of traditionally minded artists, but Dupont never tries to sound “jazzy,” as many a fusion project might. He never breaks the spell of what we are hearing, but plays with two ounces of selflessness for every ounce of creative input. Neither does he even take a solo until the album's seventh track, “Northern breeze,” and again until the ninth—the freely improvised “Afternoon Jam.” He and the group are at their finest in these chunks of unscripted joy.
Ahmad's compositions are vital protagonists in this drama. His melodic acumen is original yet deferential to the histories that inform it. His two-part “Samai” sets an instrumental and atmospheric tone by balancing every imaginable aspect. Part I welcomes with its introductory flavor, while Part II jumps into energetic waters and spotlights Khoury's inspired adlibs. At any given moment, the musicians keep their emotions in check. They are poets of their craft, compressing lifetimes worth of vibrancy into every verse.
"Samai II" (excerpt)
“Awalem” is the album's fiercely melodic center and puts emphasis on the tactile framing of Youssef's riq (tambourine). “Marakeb,” on the other hand, is latticed and dissonant. In either, Khoury plays as if he were storing sunlight like a solar cell in anticipation of a moonless night, while Ahmad speaks in shorter bursts of close-eyed confidence.
"Rast mode prelude" (excerpt)
Oud and buzuq converse beautifully in two improvised “preludes,” featuring only those two instruments. Like the album's title track (Arabic for “foam”), they seem effervescent in name, but in execution flirt with undeniable providence. Percussion and bass, as a dedicated rhythm section, keep step with the duo, ever in search of humanity.
This is explicitly optimistic music that will throw a light on your heart, no mattered how shaded it has become. - Tyran Grillo