Guitarist and composer Ayman Fanous is a musical explorer who thrives in duet settings. He has recorded three such outings over a span of a dozen years, the latter of which is the mystical and haunting Negoum (Stars in Arabic). On it Fanous collaborates with the restlessly inventive cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, who has pushed boundaries of her instrument into uncharted territory.
When writing the music for this album Fanous drew inspiration from the work of medieval Islamic scholar and astronomer Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni. Hence each of the eight originals is titled after a star that has an Arabic name.
Overall there is an ethereal ambience that is appropriate given the theme of the recording. "Alioth," for instance, is like a fantastical and modernistic tale that opens with Uitti's contemplative and meandering lines. Fanous punctuates the cello's soliloquy with sparse and resonant notes. As the spontaneous dialogue evolves it becomes fiery and angular at the climax and closes with a captivating melange of Eastern and Western harmonies.
There are other ethnomusical flavors that appear throughout. Fanous uses the bouzouki, greco-turkish lute, for a more middle eastern sound in addition to the acoustic guitar. On the expectant "Caph" his lithe and crystalline strums hint to the Andalusian Flamenco tradition. Meanwhile Uitti, using 2 bows, responds with uniquely mesmerizing phrases. The two stream-of-consciousness improvisations coalesce into a thrillingly dissonant dialogue that obliterates the silence that was so deftly used at the opening of the tune.
The pièce de résistance of the release is the multi-layered and cinematic "Adhara." Fanous' lyrical refrains and Uitti's melancholic vamps built a darkly shimmering melody with a hypnotic mood. Passionately poetic the duo's sonic swirls and individual, reverberating tones balance wistful yearning with a zen serenity. The elegant ebb and flow of the extemporization is stimulating, emotive and sublime.
Even though their career trajectories have not been parallel, what Fanous and Uitti have in common is their bold ingenuity and disregard for narrow genreisms. Negoum is the successful result of their mutual creative experimentations. With it the two artistic innovators have uncovered the abstract universality of music itself
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