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Nashaz: Nashaz

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Nashaz was founded by jazz guitarist Brian Prunka after a few chance incidents led him to explore the great pantheon of Arabic music. These meetings made Prunka travel long and winding roads. Geographically, from his hometown, New Orleans, to Brooklyn (where he studied with Palestinian oud master Simon Shaeen and his brother Najib; and to Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and back again. Musically, he followed a similar trajectory, from jazz to Arabic music and back again.

After studying the oud, often called 'the king of all instruments,' and Arabic music—its heritage, the scales, maqams, rhythms, and manners of improvisation and ornamentation—Prunka founded Nashaz. In this group he attempts to find a balance between jazz and Arabic music-based compositions and improvisations and, to position the oud as a leading instrument in a jazz outfit.

The outcome on Nashaz's debut is mixed. It is clear that Prunka is well-versed in the Arabic scales, and has become a proficient oud player. But unlike other oud players—Rabih Abou-Khalil, who introduces surprising arrangements and instrumentation, spiced with healthy doses of humor; Anouar Brahem and Rahim Alhaj, both gifted with personal, poetic language; or even Gordon Grdina, who dared to offer adventurous interpretations to Arabic music (with his Kyle Sharamitaro band on Her Eyes Illuminate, (Songlines, 2012)—Prunka sound like one who respects both great musical traditions too much to stamp his own mark. Often, his composition, though nuanced, detailed and elegant, sound as though they lack elements of intensity, urgency or even surprise.

Still, Prunka's arrangements still offer rare a equilibrium, where Prunka on the oud,Kenny Warren on the trumpet and Nathan Herrera on the alto sax play as equal partners in a patient and emphatic atmosphere. The cinematic "Andalus" suggests a beautiful, quiet soundscape, and Prunka shines as a storyteller. The heartfelt dedication to the the great Egyptian composer Mohamad el-Qassabji (who composed many songs for the great singer Oum Kulthum), "Qassabji's Nightmare," playfully Ellingtonian elements and the innovative compositional ideas of Qassabji himself. The upbeat and jovial "'Ajam" leaves more room for all the band to improvise joyfully on a simple Arabic scale. Nashaz is an interesting and promising debut.

Track Listing: Hijaz Nashaz; Khartoum; Andalus; Qassabji's Nightmare; City of Sand; Jurjina; Al-Ghayb; 'Ajam.

Personnel: Brian Prunka: oud; Kenny Warren: trumpet; Nathan Herrera: alto sax, bass clarinet, alto flute; Apostolos Sideris: bass; George Mel: frame drum, udu drum, cajon, pandeiro, miscellaneous percussion; Vin Scialla: riq.

Title: Nashaz | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced


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