There’s an embarrassment of riches on Critical Models, the debut solo album by 20-something composer Mohammed Fairouz. And yet the chamber nature of the record’s six pieces lends an unshakable sense of intoxicating intimacy.
A contemporary of Gabriel Kahane and Nico Muhly, Fairouz is a composer with an equally distinguished pedigree (he was one of Ligeti’s last students), but with a different brand of sound that replaces Muhly’s unabashed exuberance for introspective intensity and Kahane’s droll humor for incisive wit. Album opener Litany starts off with a whisper of flute, oboe and clarinet, before opening into a richly woven woodwind tapestry of neoclassical rhythms and unsettling fluid lines. The composition ends palindrome-like on the same subtle note that begins the four-and-a-half–minute work.
Litany sets the tone for an album that is a study in contrasts, full of setting and implied text that forms the basis to many of Fairouz’s works. Title work Four Critical Models careens between Fairouz’s dual identities as American and Middle Eastern, traditional and modern, with distinct references to Edward Said and his brand of orientalist studies (the captivating third movement, An Oriental Model, is most effectively schizophrenic).
Similar multiple identities abound in Piano Miniatures, which includes an homage to Philip Glass at his most kinetic as well as in the vaguely Jordi Savall-ian Airs (for Guitar). Both Four Critical Models and Three Novelettes (For Piano & Alto Saxophone), are strong saxophone features, exposing the instrument’s lyrical potential on par with the viola or cello. Taken on the whole, this album is a deluge, but one that’s as beguiling as snow in July.