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Claude Chalhoub
Claude Chalhoub

By Srajan Ebaen
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Claude Chalhoub "Claude Chalhoub"

Compact Disc Compact Disc: Teldec 8573-83039-2 Compact Disc


Genre: Lebanese/Classical Western hybrid around solo violin, string octet,
     tabla, drum kit and Qawwali vocals

  The 28-year old Claude Chalhoub, born in Lebanon but now residing in Boston, attended the Lebanese Conservatoire before entering the Royal College of Music in London as winner of the prestigious Queen Mother Scholarship award. Fluent in Classical Western music and co-concert master for Barenboim’s ‘West-Eastern Divan’ Workshop & Orchestra, Chalhoub is equally versed in Arab Folk Music which he frequently performs.

His eponymous debut release on Teldec Classics International is the result of an exclusive recording contract and produced by Michael Brook who has overseen numerous crossover efforts like the RealWorld releases “Musst Musst” and “Night Song” with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. On Claude Chalhoub, the young violinist plays a rare Antonio Stradivari on extended loan facilitated by The Stradivari Society of Chicago in recognition for his outstanding talent. To accompany his original compositions and arrangements of Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1” and Boghos Gelalian’s “Sonata Breve”, Chalhoub surrounds himself with string octet, Heitor Pereira on acoustic guitar, Michael Brook on his unique infinite guitar capable of endless sustain, Deepak Ram on bansuri, Nusrat’s brother Forroukh Fateh Ali Khan on Pakistani vocals, Jamil Akhatar on tabla and various others.

The opening “Red Desert” instantly catapults expectations sky high, and the entire album continues on that mountainous crest without a single misstep. From the reverb-washed Indian bansuri flute rising like dreamy smoke wisps above the smoldering cinders of tabla and drum kit to Arabian-style massed violins descending chromatically; from growling electric bass accents injecting a touch of House to Chalhoub’s minor-scale improvisational shimmies, slides, caresses, incantations, clamors and sighs that alternate between Middle-Eastern modalities and decidedly Western flourishes… there are precious few crafty pointer of the “Sting meets Paris Lounge meets Khaled” ilk that would do justice to what Claude Chalhoub really sounds like. What’s unexpected from the bio is the overall restraint that transcends any need to manifest the “I’m young, I’m hot, I got technique” syndrome.

Instead of Paganini or Sarasate, Claude picked Erik Satie for his only work-over of a pre-existing composition whose post-Chalhoub flavor is more Cardamom and Absinth than baguettes and Latte. The choice of this dreamlike tone poem from the French minimalist -- much admired by the more famous Debussy and Ravel for good reason -- speaks volumes about Chalhoub’s focus. He favors melodies and harmonic progressions that lend themselves to an East-meets-West treatment of minor scale modalities. He prefers mood to pizzazz, mystery over brilliance.

This theme of minimalist but poignant exoticism, sketch versus high-resolution close-up, carries over to the choice of string octet as the harmonic and timbral backbone that occasionally turns Eastern-style ostinato; the tasteful, never dominating drum kit that counterbalances the sweetness of the strings with the colder temper of cymbals and rim shots; the clever use of tabla trills; the haunting vocal counterpoint of Qawwali maestro Forroukh to Claude’s weaving in and out of the ensemble work; and Chalhoub’s actual mastery on his Stradivarius – lean, economical, emotion controlled by keen intellect. This temperate quality is augmented by Michael Brook’s production values on space and atmosphere.

A quote from Brook’s liner note commentary becomes relevant: “… Good luck brought Forroukh, brother of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to Los Angeles for a concert with his son Rahat Fateh Ali Kahn. One of the most memorable evenings was Claude performing with Forroukh and Rahat at a private party given by Giuseppe Asaro. The truly stunning musical repartee between Claude and Rahat’s group gave the audience an evening to remember, not least when Claude wobbled over the swimming pool with his Stradivarius on the tiny stage...”

While nothing on Claude Chalhoub the album wobbles, this image properly suggests humility and a passionate commitment to musically span cultural chasms. Both are much in evidence on this surprising first release that succeeds precisely because it pops into existence without the pattern of a precursor. It’s yet another just discovered facet on the face of world music fusion, a perfect entry for lovers of Classical Western music as well as World Beat aficionados who will pass each other on this trans-cultural bridge with affectionate smiles.








































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