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Al-Andalus by Tarik & Julia Banzi
Genetic Memories

By Srajan Ebaen
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Al-Andalus by Tarik & Julia Banzi "Genetic Memories"

Compact Disc Compact Disc: Al-Andalus Productions 193 Compact Disc


Genre: Moorish chamber music 

  Sponsored by the Regional Arts & Culture Council of Portland, Oregon, Al-Andalus is an ensemble that, as the name implies, concentrates on music inspired by Moorish-ruled Spain during the 8th to 15th centuries when Muslims, Jews & Christians peacefully coexisted side by side in an inspired cultural exchange of the sciences and arts. Headed by Tarik Banzi on oud and various other instruments, and his wife Julia on flamenco guitar, the ensemble encompasses up to nine performers during live performances - including dancers -- and on this release features Ranjani Krishnan on Tamil and Sephardic Ladino vocals and Joe Heineman on piano. Martin Zarzar and Gavin Bondy appear on percussion and trumpet on one track each.

The previous Al-Andalus album Illumination has occupied top-drawer status in my personal collection for years. I kept hoping that the group's masterful exploits wouldn't limit themselves to one solitary example of recorded greatness. While today's Genetic Memories is apparently a 1999 release, despite searching compulsively for a follow-up album to Illumination I had never come across its listing anywhere until late last year when it surfaced on Tower Records website. Because it is a worthy successor to Al-Andalus' glorious precedent, I decided to include it in my "Best of 2001" grouping, thereby creatively bending my own rule that such albums had to be new releases.

Moroccan-born Tarik grew up immersed in the Andalusian tradition and played in Flamenco, Jazz and Middle-Eastern music circles throughout the 80s. Together with Jewish musicologist Dr. Javier Sanchez, he later formed the group Al-Fatihah that, in Spain, apparently enjoys the reputation as one of the finest formations for Middle Eastern music. He has collaborated with Flamenco greats such as Paco de Lucia, Manolo Sanlucar, Enrique Morente and Carlos Carli and introduced the use of the dumbek into mainstream Flamenco vernacular. In the late 80's, Tarik and Julia formed the group Amal together with Maria Ahmed and Rasqui Boujemaa and their joint students Fain Duenas and Vicente Molina who later went on to form the popular group Radio Tarifa.

Colorado-born Julia studied Flamenco guitar under Spanish masters Isidro Munoz and Manolo Sanlucar and is presently working on her Masters degree in Ethnomusicology at the University of California at Santa Barbara where she concentrates on the study of the Andalusian Women's Orchestras of Morocco. Joe Heinemann is the group's pianist and has toured and recorded with artists like Quincy Jones, Robben Ford, Robert Cray, Archie Shepp, Eddie Harris, Steve Miller and Ronnie Montrose. He is currently appearing with the Charlie Musselwhite Blues Band and the Patty Austin Band.

Genetic Memories opens with "Secrets" and an ambient-rich lament on solo Ney that, once piano, guitar and various hand percussions set up a slowly swirling pulse, soon turns into a mournful melody. In accord with the album's temporal locus in Medieval Spain, we're quickly treated to strong aural visions of the Alhambra or other architectural remnants of its celebrated Moorish empire. On the "Marrakesh" interlude, percolating drums, energetic bass pattern, the raspy cries of the trumpet and faint voice fragments then transport us to the din of an outdoor North-African bazaar with its dark-skinned faces and colorful wares to which Tarik's trenchant tremolos and rumbling runs on oud provide a natural counterpoint. "Katrinile" marries the soulful Karnatic vocals of Ranjani Krishnan not to sitar and tablas but oud and dumbek and thus points to similar stylistic mergers in Thierry 'Titi' Robin's gipsy ensemble in France. The faster-paced "Echos" with its darbuka trills dances atop one of those impossible aggregate rhythms that combines various odd meters and embodies a gay yet muscular and virile spirit. "Yo M'Enamori" is an ancient Sephardic tune with a plain but haunting melody sung in the original Ladino language of the Spanish Jews. On the noteworthy album by Santa Fe vocalist Consuelo Luz called Dezeo [Apricot Records], this type of song becomes the backbone of an entire production dedicated to the Ladino culture.

"Portrait of Zahra" is a free-form solo oud improvisation that echoes thematic fragments of earlier tracks while "Afgano" is a traditional song from Afghanistan translated by the Banzis into a slowly limping but stately instrumental number. It epitomizes the entire production's milieu of a darkish opulence and languishing splendor, as though musically we were drifting down the halls of an exiled Moghul prince's opium-dream induced memory palace. The following track "Absence" breaks this organic mold with distinct Jazz influences of syncopated piano chords, drum kit groove, Ney riffs and voice coder recitation and is the experimental but odd oud- man out among these tunes. "Inherited Messenger" transplants the theme from the earlier "Echos" into an oud/piano duet and shows, just like Anouar Brahem continues to do with his work on ECM, how the oud can be lifted out of its classical Arabian milieu and successfully integrated into a thoroughly modern yet perfectly suitable setting.

Genetic Memories, just as its precursor Illumination, is world music at its best and, even better, of the kind that is occasionally shared 'live'. Simply check the Al-Andalus website for dates. Should your local music stockist not have Memories in his store, do likewise to obtain a copy. It's a time capsule not unlike the one predicted to rest in the sands below the Sphinx or Great Pyramid in Egypt. However, Genetic Memories doesn't whisper to us of alien planetary rulers and seeders but our very human cultural ancestors that are given contemporary voices to once again roam this domain in our minds and hearts. And lovers of the oud may want to look forward to Tarik's forthcoming album Visions that's scheduled for release in March, can be ordered on-line and will feature solo oud improvisations by what is clearly a contemporary Grand master of this ancient instrument.








































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