Toronto composer John Kameel Farah is a multi-disciplinary, intercultural artist who seems to excel at everything he does. Not only does he play piano, he adds electronics and orchestral instruments. Not only does he compose, he also produces elaborate ink drawings. His music has accompanied installations, and his art has been featured in shows. But most importantly, he’s authentic. His combination of European and Arabic hues comes from the heart. While many artists incorporate Arabic rhythms and structures in their music, few go as far as to study such arts, or to perform in the Middle East. The importance of such an approach cannot be understated. After words and actions have completely failed, the strains of music continue to reach the ears of nations.
An early precursor to this work is that of Hughes de Courson, whose Mozart in Egypt made a minor splash nearly two decades ago. Each work blends the influences of seemingly disparate cultures, yet the former is a mix – nearly a mash-up – and the latter is solely Farah. The flourishes of notes and carefully arranged silences of the introit alert the listener to the fact that the pianist is in no hurry; even his breath is audible. Two minutes in, a stereo explosion occurs, shifting the project from the intimate to the exuberant. And then, restraint.
After this, the tree begin to sprout branches, the branches leaves. “Mercurial” introduces a dance beat that morphs as the track progresses, flirting first with basic rock, then with dubstep, disappearing for long stretches. The ivory progressions follow a non-linear path, the beat operating as a tether. Time signatures trip up the steps, then gather their spilled possessions and re-ascend. A single brand of rhythm might murder such a track, so the variety is a boon.
Middle Eastern influences are present throughout, but begin to make their presence known in “Surus”, accelerating as the album progresses. They live inside synthesized pitches on “Lake Trasimene”, and are reflected in percussion on the title track, which provides a pas de deux that is the album’s standout segment, caught between Carthage and Rome. The ten-minute closer, “Sama’i Point”, operates in the same arena, but changes tempo too frequently to have the same impact. The closing minutes allow space for reflection, a reedy coda fading to oblivion, the final line of ink on a black and white sheet. (Richard Allen)