Basya Schechter, normally heard as the voice of New Jewish Movement group Pharoah's Daughter, makes a bit of a departure and delivers Queen's Dominion
, a more-or-less stripped down instrumental affair that blends music from across the Middle East with, not so surprisingly, a sound that also demonstrates how the music of Persia ultimately travelled north to inform music as far away as Ireland.
Schechter's oud playing is not in the virtuoso realm of players like Anouar Brahem and Rabih Abou-Khalil, nor does it attempt to be. Instead, her rooted playing is the foundation around which everything else is based. While she may establish the melody, as she does on "Midian," she is more likely to be found ranging around the low end of the instrument, fleshing out the bottom end when the group isn't augmented by guest bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, who appears on the opening track, the lively "Dead Sea." More often than not the lead is taken by Alan Kushan's attractive santir (hammered dulcimer) or Meg Okura's soaring violin.
The core group explores the juncture between traditional Arabian music and influences from the Jewish tradition, but arguably the most interesting piece is "By Way of Haran," which, with fellow Pharoah's Daughter member Daphna Mor on recorders, has a distinctly Celtic flavour, even though its circuitous 15/8 pattern is clearly more focused in the Persian tradition.
The pieces are more focused on composition but that doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvisation. "Under the Moes Tree" and "Wherewolf" are both, in fact, completely free improvisation, albeit brought into focus by Kushan. Both pieces place ambience and atmosphere ahead of flair and technical wizardry, but are richly evocative pieces that demonstrate how, with a strong set of ears, magic can indeed be made.
The textures created by the largely string-based group are all the more forceful for their diversity. With strings being plucked, hammered and bowed there is plenty of room for breadth. And when the group is supplemented with melodica and trumpet, as it is on the moody and shifting title track, the sonics become very rich indeed, especially as these additional instruments are used for timbre more than melodic convention.
With Tzadik also reissuing a remastered and slightly altered version of Pharoah's Daughter's out of print '00 Knitting Factory release, Out of the Reeds , it is clear that the label is putting some weight behind Schechter and her personal vision of the varied musical traditions of the Middle East. Queen's Dominion establishes her as an artist who is as compelling an instrumental composer as she is a songwriter, and it bodes well for things to come.
Personnel: Basya Schechter (oud, percussion), Alan Kushan (santir, voice), Jarrod Cagwin (percussion), Meg Okura (violin)
Special Guests: Daphna Mor (recorders), Noah Hoffeld (cello), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), Jason Lindner (melodica), Albert Leusink (trumpet), Chiara Civello (breathing, vocals)