03 Near EastNear East
Near East Trio (Ravi Naimpally; Demetri Petsalakis; Ernie Tollar)
Independent NE001 (neareasttrio.com)

This excellent album is like an elegant railway system linking jazz, folk, Hindustani, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music, which all seems to come together in an elegant 21st-century conservatoire. But to describe it as such might also give the impression of overcooking when in fact it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Ernie Tollar’s reeds and woodwinds are an exotic take on the lineage of the cool spacey music of an Indian durbar and the moist echo of a Turkish bath. The exotic atmospherics come from the flute, albeit in a less than conventional setting, even as Tollar summons breathy woody tones from the instrument. These float benignly over the sound of Demetri Petsalakis’ lutes, which in turn add a rich harmonic foundation to the music.

Meanwhile the regal rumble of Ravi Naimpally’s tabla makes for a hypnotic trance-like beat. The surprises when they come on songs such as Cairo and Muzafir are effective but discreet: a gamelan-like riff is played as pizzicato harmonics; a delicate curlicue of a bass drum line underpins what sounds like a Gaelic lament played on the flute; and a close-knit ensemble passage on Muzafir develops from a single phrase. That said, there are moments throughout when the trio loosens just enough to let the individual instrumental personality through, as when a soaring ney flute emerges imparting a mystical tinge, or a lyra solo arises from the relentless cycles conjuring the otherworldliness of this music.

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Author: Raul da Gama
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