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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Emad Armoush’s Duos – Electritradition (Drip Audio, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Damascene Vancouverite Emad Armoush has been at it for almost 25 years, now, bringing Arabic and Iberian oud, ney, guitar and vocal traditions to ears across the globe. When I say “tradition,” however, I do not mean conventional or faithful to some decontextualized, staid practice. Rather, Armoush first came to my ears in Gordan Grdina’s Haram ensemble (reviewed here and here ). The tradition is there, but in new contexts and new forms and necessarily with new meanings. Hence, the title Electritradition, a portmanteau that joins the new and old, the faithful and the divergent.

Electritraditionconsists of a series of duos with François Houle (clarinet and electronics), Jesse Zubot (violin and electronics), JP Carter (trumpet and electronics), Kenton Loewen (drums and percussion) and Marina Hasselberg (cello). As the liner notes point out, the duo is extremely intimate, and that intimacy comes through effortlessly in these pieces. Each is fully fleshed out, and the artists seem sympatico. In fact, that sympathy, that collective feeling, sets the mood for Electritradition , as well. This music is deeply moving, often somber, sometimes discordant, sometimes hopeful, but always appealing to that range of yielding and interpersonally connective emotions.

One could spend a great deal of time focusing on the other side of the duos: Houle’s impeccable tone and precision, Zubot and Carter’s blending of their acoustic techniques and electronic distortions into Armoush’s vision, Loewen’s responsively rhythmic but also wandering drums, or Hasselberg’s weeping waves of sound. However, Armoush stands out throughout all of this, not only in his oud and guitar, which are both so rooted but also, at points, defy conventions, but also in his deeply soulful singing. One hears this in pieces such as Labshi, when his singing entangles with both oud and Carter’s trumpet, or the sweetly and mournfully bucolic duet with Hasselberg, Hala Lala Layya, or the vamped middle of the final and possibly most mesmerizing track, Eye to Eye, the second duo with Houle.

This album is a real achievement. It brings to mind legendary figures such as Anouar Brahem and incredible contemporary units such as, well, Haram. And, in the sense of the latter, it embraces, defies and furthers tradition, making what one must hope is a new lasting tradition of this Syrio-Iberico-Canadian-et al. music that really defies close categorization, but somehow – or maybe just because of that - fits perfectly on the pages of FJB.

Electritraditionis available as a CD or download on Bandcamp.