18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Soul-settling, cathartic statements with improvisation & Iraqi song on oud & percussion,
This review is from: When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq (Audio CD)
Playing Time - 73:26 -- Rahim Alhaj is a master of the oud (Arabic lute). All but one of the nine tracks span between 7-11 minutes. Alhaj's original taqsim (instrumental improvisations) provide a contemporary interpretation of maqams (the unique pitches on the Arabic musical scale along with their melodic movement). Alhaj's material is also rooted in and derived from this Iraqi musical tradition. For example, "Taqsim Maqam Hijaz" includes a rendition of the famous Iraqi song "Atop the Palm Tree." In fact, each piece includes improvisation followed by a famous song. While it might have been more interesting for some of the pieces to be arranged with a fuller maqam ensemble sound of spike fiddle (joza) and dulcimer (santur) too, some of the cuts do feature percussionist Souhail Kaspar plays goblet drums (tablah, dumbak) and small tambourine (riqq). Apparently, he didn't use a frame drum (daf) that maqam ensembles sometimes include. In "Taqsim Maqam Sika" and "Taqsim Maqam Hijaz," the riqq (or daff) makes its most prominent appearance and provides for a colorful expression in that piece. Born in Lebanon, Kaspar studied music in Syria but now makes his home in Los Angeles. While the 32-page CD booklet could have said more about Kaspar's instruments, the bilingual musical explanations for each track are educational.
A prodigy who began playing oud at age nine, Rahim Alhaj subsequently graduated from Baghdad Conservatory in 1990. He also holds a degree in Arabic Literature. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Alhaj's activism against the Saddam Hussein regime led to is forced move to Jordan and Syria. The political refugee relocated to the U.S. in 2000 and now lives in Albuquerque, N.M. There, he won the 2003 Albuquerque Arts Alliance Bravo Award for Excellence in Music.
On this album (his fourth overall), the accomplished and proficient musician says that the intent of each piece is to reflect the maqam tradition and, in doing so, to settle the soul. He does a fine job of introducing us to the musical and aesthetic of the Iraqi style. Rahim's music has both delicate and forceful moments. Its full-bodied essence speaks forcefully as he combines traditional Iraqi maqams with more contemporary inspiration and insight. While this kind of improvisational global sound may be novel to many westerners' ears, its strength is its creativity and imagination that take us on an impressive 73-minute atmospheric journey. His closing number, "Taqsim Maqam Saba" is an emotional expression of sorrow and grief. There also seems to be a prevalent thread in his compositions for peace, hope, optimism and compassion in the future. Undoubtedly, Rahim misses his homeland, but he also makes soul-settling and cathartic musical statements about his musical rejuvenation and personal renewal in the United States. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)