Those familiar with Absolute Ensemble's 2010 disc, Absolute Zawinul, will be familiar with the jazzy–world–classical hybrid idiom in which the ensemble and conductor Kristjan Järvi find themselves at home. Like the Kronos Quartet, Absolute has a penchant and flair for exploring various cultures and an appealing ear for tempering the intersection between various persuasions.
Such is the case for their newest disc, Arabian Nights, taken from a 2007 concert at New York's Town Hall that was presented as a September 11 memorial concert. Like the Kronos's Floodplain, a Middle Eastern flair overtakes a generous portion of the recording, ably abetted by Marcel Khalife on vocals and oud. There is also a sense of the New Orleans-esque big band era coming into play on tracks like ebullient opener Bahriyyeh and the sweetly and swiftly seductive movement from Concerto for Nay, Karachi (you can catch a free download of the latter above). Other songs nestle more deeply in the Eastern idiom, and longer numbers like Bayat and Amr I Bismiki present musical Middle Feasts that tread old world (Bayat opens with a simple solo flute line courtesy of Bassam Saba that lasts for over one minute before an equally poetic percussionist and hypnotic violinist join in) with the new (Amr I Bismiki wouldn't be out of place in a smoky Beiruit night club).
Ultimately, Arabian Nights reiterates that the root of Western music can be found in Eastern traditions and the merit of this performance is based in part by a successful re-bridging of that gap. At once we can see how far we've moved from the music of the Floodplain, yet how many artifacts we still carry from those traditional works in contemporary music today. Record label Enja's live recording not only captures that perspective, but—and perhaps more importantly—the exuberant audience's gratitude at hearing both cultures once again come together.