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Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Dirar Kalash – At the Chapel of the Divine Child, Bethlehem University (al-bayan, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Dirar Kalash is a young Berlin-based Palestinian musician who has quickly racked up collaborations with the likes of notables such as John Tilbury and Jaspar Stadhouser , among others. He has also released a spate of solo performances, most frequently on oud, piano and saxophone. At the Chapel of the Divine Child-Bethlehem Universitycaptures him performing on the latter in April 2021.

Kalash clearly has chops as an improviser. A quick examination of his solo work on his primary instruments and forays into the violin, guitar and unspecified electronics are evidence enough. What he may lack in preternatural universal virtuosity or decades of experience he makes up for in creativity, or an “un-metaphorical touching, sounding, and sensing” that transcends the physicality or mode of sound creation of a given instrument. He has interesting ideas and finds interesting ways to express them. At the Chapel exemplifies this in two ways: the alternately spacious and spirited delivery on the saxophone and the way those melodies resound in the chapel. He plays the building, ricocheting sounds to evoke two or three saxophones playing at once. Tone, echo, overlay, echo. It is all Kalash, however, and Kalash alone.

More than just a live recording, At the Chapel seems a statement, though one that is difficult to unpack. Given the location and his clear, sometimes doleful articulation, it is hard not to read something confessional or spiritual into this performance. Given Kalash's status as a Ramallah-born musician active in the German-Arab diaspora and performing back in the West Bank, it might even be tempting to read some political message or people's story into this. Although there may be something to that, however, I would not push that point too far. This sounds far too personal. The message, whatever it may be, is too embedded in the emotive for such speculation. The music simply moves, and with an underlying intensity, or maybe earnest urgency, and a proficiency and vision that distinguish it as a performance and recording.

At the Temple of the Divine Child is available as a pay-what-you-will download on Bandcamp: .