Where Angels Fear To Tread – Yitzhak Yedid’s Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio by Arjun von Caemmerer

Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio (Between the Lines BTLCHR 71230)
Yitxhak Yedid

Review by Arjun von Caemmerer

Arabic Violin Bass Piano TrioAchtung! Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio by Yitzhak Yedid. Australian? And Jazz?? An unqualified Yes-and-No! Allow me to explain…

By way of introduction, behold Between the Lines, the CD house in which Yedid’s latest composition stands, in good company with his six earlier recordings on this label. Based in Germany and founded in 1999 ‘Between the Lines’ has considered itself as a platform for ‘music, which touches your brain’ (Peter Rüedi)…most of the recordings on the label oscillate in the border area between jazz and new music, in no way defined by categorizations, but instead by curiosity, openness, desire to experiment, joy in common discoveries and enjoyment of playing. But, I hear you repeat: Australian?? And Jazz???

Came to me from Coorparoo, Queensland 4151, this CD did. Can’t say fairer than that. Contents of this circularity were composed in Oz (2009), captured in The Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel (November, 2011), and constructed in Germany. CD was contained within a padded bag (Australia Post) that the composer’s signature confirmed did not contain any dangerous or prohibited goods, explosive or incendiary devices. Coorparoo translates as the place of the peaceful dove; Coorparoo also, it happens, is the place of the mosquito: a curiously compelling combination—peace, dovetailed with stinging.

Down to details: pianist Yitzhak Yedid’s Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio is a four-movement suite in 26 parts, a cycle that occupies the best part of an hour in listening time. Demanding expertise in improvisational capacities as well as a thorough grounding in classical Arabic music, Arabic-influenced Jewish music and contemporary Western classical music, Yedid has chosen his musical accomplices with deliberate care. Double-bass is held by Ora Boasson Horev, Yedid’s accompanist on four previous Between the Lines albums. Decidedly, it warrants a mention that her instrument’s name may be seen strung, deterministically, through the middle of her own! Defining—or delimiting—her as ‘an accompanist’ seems perhaps insufficient (does the word not seem somewhat diminutive in connotation?): Yedid makes music with an ear drawn to the particular and virtuosic abilities of his fellow musicians, his co-composers on this disc.

Enter Sami Kheshaiboun, on Arabic violin, the third tributary of this stream. Envelopment within this ensemble seems entirely inevitable given that he too had studied earlier in life at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance with fellow student Yitzhak. Each ‘JAMD’ together. Extremely adept, his energetic and engrossing entwinements engage the ear at his every turn. Excellent exemplar, even without the evocative title: on Evolution of hatred and bitterness (track 5) Sami’s violin eerily evokes the wailing of a siren or an air raid alarm that gradually emerges into another life, urgent & agonized, abetted by Boasson’s bass which itself sounds as though it were a crippled emergency vehicle, negotiating pianistic spot fires, explosions…

Forget rigid categories, the security of strict delineations. Formative influences for Israeli-born Yedid include classical music (as a child and later at JAMD); the discovery of jazz and improvisation (in Israel and at Boston’s New England Conservatory, where he studied with Paul Bley and Ran Blake); and not least his immersion in the music of his childhood environment: the Syrian synagogue where all the melodies were rendered in Arabic scales, and his thorough saturation with the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish scales. For Yedid it’s all been grist to the mill: I’m dealing with very classical things, also with jazz and folk things—but it’s not classical, it’s not jazz and it’s not folk. I’m using various techniques, like a painter trying to use all the materials he knows about. I’m trying to bring all these different elements together. Fortunately, he has found his own feet and these fit fine: A lot of people in the classical world don’t accept me as one of them, and a lot of jazz artists don’t look at me as a jazz musician or composer, but that doesn’t bother me at all. Ran Blake called me stubborn. Maybe I am, but I like where I am today.

Generated entirely by playing inside the piano, Taqsim, dedicated to the day of tomorrow opens the disc. Generally, taqsim (an Arabic melodic musical improvisation, usually solo) serve as an introduction to a musical performance, conveying its essential spirit in germinal form, and here the vocal quality seems tinged with sorrow, plangent in its fading overtones. Gravitating without pause into The image of an old weary man, the violin blows in, as though carrying, over the piano’s dying steps, shreds of the past.

Hearing the violin’s alternation between traditional Arabic Maawal, vocal-based improvisation, and avant garde jazz-like extemporization on The image of an old weary man effectively highlights the tension between past and present, the bass echoing the violin as if it was the flesh lagging behind the will in the suddenly now-difficult performance of an oft-repeated, previously simple ritual (such as the act of putting on one’s own shoes). Here sounds a lament to incapacity, and the pain that comes with an awareness of it. His final request (track 6) continues this image at a temporal remove—final request must surely imply the old man’s imminent death—and this piece is deliberately textured to hold a resemblance to a Piyyutim—a Jewish prayer whose high-pitched petitions, laid down on a bed of piano, ultimately die into silence. However the past is never really gone. Hearken to Yedid: our past traditions and history should be remembered and acknowledged… Hence, Awakening the Dead (track 17); hence, a return of The Image of the old man from the First Movement (track 24); and hence too, the recurrence of this particular Piyyutim, the prayer of purification, as Epilogue (track 26) to the whole cycle.

If it all sounds intensely serious so far, that is because it is.

Joy is however, never absent, insinuating itself throughout this music’s fabric. Jubilant dance asserts itself again and again: the jig of The dancers’ gleeful cries (track 8) & Belly dancing in an imaginary cult ritual (track 10); the jounce of Hallucinatory Debka dance (track 21) & Magic of a sensual belly dancer (track 22); the jubilation of Cries of joy (track 19) & the joy de vivre of Again the cries (track 23).

Kontrast (or, non-Germanically, contrast) is the sensibility informing these divergent expressions, joy counterbalancing the anger, anguish, distress discernible within the music of The Image of a Holocaust survivor on the streets of Tel Aviv (track 15), where distorted (as though drunk) violin weaves amongst the bass and splintered piano sounds, in chaos suggestive of careless abandon and disorientation, until slow, long threnodic chords, woven of bass and violin, survey the wreckage, the damage wreaked. Keys unlock locks, and here, again, is Yedid: the music makes manifest the tensions between the ancient and the new, the religious and the secular, the East and the West.

Looking, or more specifically gazing—the act of looking long and intently—occurs twice in the track titles: ‘The pianist’s gaze’ (track 4) and ‘The violinist’s gaze’ (track 20). Listening to the first of these seems to say: Look—this is what I witnessed; it leans into what seems an effortless and reflective improvisation then lowers into memories of childlike skips and steps. Lingering for long here seems disallowed though—there comes a departure, a darkening, an overshadowing full of portent. Left completely behind on The Violinist’s gaze is the piano, the sole track on the album which lacks this instrument. Look back, the violinist seems to say, pointing behind with his bow towards the traditional Arabic taqsim, his improvisation becoming a commentary etched over a time-tempered bass drone. Look back and listen: to the continuation of sounding, the drone’s sound of continuation.

Mathematics makes microtones (or perhaps it’s the other way round?); whatever: the double bassist performs microtonal countertenor-like sounds imitating cries of joy (track 19 and further developed in track 23), meaning the musical modes—mathemagically—make the medium meaningful.

Now that mathematics has been invoked…

‘One, one and one, one and two, one and three, one and four, one and five’ (from Yom Kippur Order of Work Prayers, [track 14]) occurs as the final track of the Second Movement, itself originating in an earlier track, not Poetic Fractions (track 4) (though this sounds plausible) but in the disc’s longest track, the opening piece of the Second Movement: The High Priest’s whispered prayer on Yom Kippur as he leaves the Holy of Holies (track 7). Out of the fading tones of a piano-chord explosion (which I fancifully took to represent the aural equivalent of the act of prostration) arise the repeated iterations and incantations of prayer, a Sephardi-Mizrahi piyyut, Seder Ha’avoda, the prayer of atonement, punctuated by recurrent pianistic ‘explosions’; after the fourth such interruption all the instruments fragment: hammered piano is played literally inside out, knocking and scraping, while agonal violin sounds a solo improvisation against a rupt, irregular bass counterpoint. Other prayer-based pieces are prominent on the disc, occurring through all four of the Movements of this Suite, piyyutim-based in half a dozen instances, and on track 18 assuming the form of an ‘Israeli chorale’ (symbolizing a merging of Judaism and Christianity) in a service dedicated to the Holocaust survivor on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Piyyutim—Jewish liturgical poems—are usually Hebrew or Aramaic and sung, chanted or recited during religious services. Pleasingly, piyyutim often follow a poetic scheme such as an acrostic following the order of the Hebrew alphabet or spelling out the name of the author.

(Quite a feat when you think about it, that quirky acrostic business.)

Religion in music can be really risky, recruiting resistance or reinforcing righteous rigidity. Rest assured, however, that Frank Zappa throws light on how Yedid resolves this rift. Read on.

Speaking of effective persuasion,

The voice of the double bassist (track 16) articulates all that follows more directly and effectively than these letters can. The quality of her voicing, initially hesitant but then increasingly eloquent, brings to mind and memory the unexcelled sarangi player Pandit Ram Narayan, and seems to sing this is where I’ve been; this is how I got to this point before gradually fading into silence, not through discontinuation but by moving on, out of audible range, as though we are witnesses to its passing through and by.

Universally understood language,says Yedid, in regard to music, that can change negativity and hatred to positivity, hope and peace.

Vive la différence!

Western and Eastern, mutually defined, hold one another and

Xenophobia, too, gets short shrift from Yitzhak Yedid: Arabic Violin Bass Trio presents a model of understanding and reconciliation that I would wish to apply to the day-to-day interactions between people, nations and religions.

You are witness now to the world’s shortest album review: Yitzhak, Ye did good!

Zappa (who else!) might as well have the last word, fitting into this schema not just through convenient dint of being the owner of a lonely last letter but more especially through his sympathy with the spirit of Yedid’s work: on bureaucratic forms that demanded the details of his religious persuasion Frank Zappa, that most trenchant critic of organized religion, would write ‘music’.


Between the Lines (Record label) www.betweenthelines.de

Purchase the CD on Amazon.com


Yitzhak Yedid: Recording session of Arabic Violin, Bass, Piano Trio