duoJalal Takes a Musical Journey to the East

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SHADOW & LIGHT: THE RUMI EXPERIENCE / SOLLIMA: Lamentatio. ZIPORYN: Honey From Alast. KORDE: Joy. SATOH: Birds in Warped Time II. JIPING: Summer in the High Grassland. LJOVA: Shadow and Light / duoJalal / Bridge 9469

The concept of this album is simple, to perform compositions inspired by the poet and mystic Jalal al-din Rumi by duoJalal, which consists of violist Kathryn Lockwood and percussionist Yousif Sheronick. The danger with this type of music, for me at least, is generally towards the lightweight and the goopy…music that either avoids rhythm or overrides the rhythmic element in favor of the airy. Happily this is not the case with the opening track, Giovanni Sollima’s Lamenttio, which despite its title is surprisingly upbeat and happy, sounding much like a piece by Rabih Abou-Khalil played by only viola and percussion. Violist Lockwood, who hails from Australia, has a good tone which she adapts and modifies to simulate Middle Eastern instruments while per partner-husband, Sheronick, is of Lebanese descent (like Abou-Khalil) and is quite evidently a master of Eastern percussion.

Although all of the compositions on this CD are instrumentals, the booklet includes the Rumi poems which inspired them. It also lists, track by track, the type of percussion that Sheronick plays, ranging from the Bodhran, Caxixi, Udu and Kanjira to the good old American vibraphone. Evan Ziporyn’s two-part suite, Honey from Alast, begins with just that sort of music I alluded to in the first paragraph, “floating” music, here with Sheronick playing vibes, but Lockwood’s edgy rhythmic push on her viola keeps things interesting, adding quick scale passages and unusual chromatic slides (think of that passage near the beginning of Stravinsky’s Firebird where the violins slide eerily up and down for two bars), while the second part picks up the rhythm in a highly unusual and asymmetric beat before settling into the kind of music one associates, for better or worse, with caravans in movies—that slow, measured but stead pulse simulating the trod of the camels. The allusion is reinforced by Sheronick’s percussion. Unusual modes are used by Lockwood, including some which roam far afield of the home key of G. The liner notes indicate that some of the rhythms are Indian, others Balkan or African, while the timbres used are based on those of Indonesia. Both the harmonic and rhythmic elements combine as the tempo increases gradually towards a breathless and breathtaking finish!

Composer Shirish Korde contributed Joy, dedicated to guitarist John McLaughlin and tabla master Zakir Hussein; it was originally the last movement of Korde’s violin concerto Svara-Yantra. As the composer explains in the notes, however, this version of the music was tailored specifically for duoJalal in the form of “an extended ‘duet cadenza’ marked by intricate rhythmic interplay between viola and percussion.” The middle section was inspired by McLaughlin’s jazz solos thus, although notated, it tries to merge the feeling of real improvisation in a chamber music setting. Happily, Lockwood has enough of a feel for rhythm and moxie in her playing to bring this off. I wonder if she has ever thought of actually trying to improvise herself? Sheronick has a ball on this one, banging happily on uduan instrument called the Udu which sounds amazingly like the woodblocks and cowbell of a standard drum kit. Looking it up online, I found out that I was right to a point. The Udu is essentially a “percussion pot” with a hole in the side that comes from the Igbo people of Nigeria (see photo). It is played by quickly tapping or hitting the hole in the side while the player’s other hand manipulates the hole in the top. Crazy, man!

Somei Satoh’s Birds in Warped Time II is created of limited elements of sound with “many calm repetitions” and frequent prolonging “of a single sound.” The composer believes that “silence and the prolongation of sound is the same thing in terms of space.” Here Sheronick again plays a vibraphone, but in a manner entirely different from any jazz vibes player. Rather than strike the keys with mallets, he creates an amorphous sound that resembles bells or a kalimba shimmering in the background. It’s very hypnotic and calming without sounding dull or uninteresting. The viola part consists primarily of long-held notes, some bent chromatically through quarter-tones, and small motifs played in a semi-melodic style. The Rumi poem used here begins: “I am the particles of dust in sunlight; I am the round sun. To the dust I say, Stay. To the sun, Keep moving.”

Zhao Jiping’s Summer in the High Grassland was inspired by the music of Mngolia; once again, we hear what I would characterize as “caravan music.” This piece was initially composed as part of the Silk Road Suite for Yo-Yo Ma and his ensemble in 2004, a group, be it noted, that has also played Rabih Abou-Khalil’s Arabian Waltz (see my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, elsewhere on this site).

We end with a 16-minute suite by Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who is himself a violist in addition to being a film composer. He describes this piece, Shadow and Light, as being “in four movements, each one shining a different thickness of light into space.” That’s a fancy way of saying that the music varies in timbre, tempo and use of percussion. duoJalal is up to the challenge, creating an almost hypnotic environment as the music progresses. There is less substance to Lockwood’s viola part here than in the other pieces, as Ljova seems to be thinking of the music in terms of minimalist gestures or, at least, small melodic-rhythmic cells repeated or varied in turn. Perhaps due to the length of this suite, plus the use of such small cells, I felt that it was effective in places to create a mood but not musically connected as were most of the previous works.

Overall, however, Shadow and Light is a really wonderful experience, not least because of the deep artistic commitment of duoJalal. This one is in a class by itself!

—© Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book: From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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