Hijaz - "Chemsi"
Hijaz - "Chemsi" (Zephyrus Records, 2011)
“Chemsi” is the new album by Belgian band ‘Hijaz’ (after the success of their debut album "Dunes").
"you can almost smell the aroma of Eastern spices floating out of the studio."
This is essentially a jazz album, but one with a difference since the Arabic music scales, the instrumentation (mainly North African and Middle Eastern) and the influence of Greek Rembetika are so infused into the album that you can almost smell the aroma of Eastern spices floating out of the studio. Although the more familiar instruments of piano (Niko Deman), bass (Vincent Noiret) and drumkit (Chryster Aerts) are skilfully in evidence throughout, it’s the interplay between these and the traditional non-Western instruments that make this CD so interesting. The band describe it as “a marriage of the piano, great instrument from the Western musical tradition, with the stringed instrument that has become synonymous with the Middle East, the oud.”
"shimmering atmospheric performances"
The Tunisian Moufadhel Adhoum produces shimmering atmospheric performances on the oud (the arabic precursor to the lute and almost all Western guitar variations since) proving it every bit as versatile as any jazz guitar (check out his solos, for instance, in “Ila Sadiqui”, or “Leaving Adana”). Similarly, Greek-Belgian Niko Deman uses his piano to almost paint with music (on “Mr J.P.S” for instance). Noiret and Aerts set the base up for all this to happen with precision and concision, the bass being featured to great effect in the spacious arrangement of the ‘tone poem’ that is “Meltemia”.
Morrocan Azzedine Jazouli is outstanding on a veritable battery of percussion (darbuka and deholla - the goblet drums, the paired tbila, the bejingled riq tambourine, the North African frame drums - the def and the bendir) often driving the rhythm in unusual directions.
"Stories, storms and sunsets are conjured up out of thin air"
But for me it is the flutework on the album that really sets the tone throughout and raises goosebumps on the skin. From Armenian Vardan Hovanissian’s double reed duduk and sh’vi to Tunisian Houssem Bel Kadhi’s haunting otherworldly ney (ancient end-blown flute), the whole album is permeated by their shifting, melancholy notes. Stories, storms and sunsets are conjured up out of thin air (the name “Chemsi” means ‘Sun’, incidentally).
If all this weren’t enough, Hijaz have invited some very special guests to perform on some of the tracks. On violin the phenomenal Belglian multi-instrumentalist Tcha Limberger, raises the musical bar once more and holds it somewhere in the midpoint between East and West; and on tabla the French-Indian Prabhu Edouard brings some South Asian fire to the ensemble.
For all the individual talents in this band, the truth is that it is really an ensemble piece of work, with each musician and artist cleverly balanced against each other in a cultural paste of musical spices. Jazz might have grown out of the West African/European melting pot, but here it feels very much at home in this Mediterranean setting.
On a final note, the strange thing is that upon hearing the album for the first time it vividly reminded me of an equally unlikely pairing: that of jazz with Bolivian music, from the aptly named South American outfit “Bolivian Jazz”. Never take anything for granted. The world of music is full of wondrous surprises.
“Chemsi” is released on 21st Feb 2011 by Zephyrus Records, Belgium