CD Review: Wisaal – an Arabic-influenced world music ensemble based in Lansing, Michigan… an Arabic word meaning links, connections, or unities

Wisaal-FB-Profile-PicArtist: Wisaal
Title: The Warp and the Weft
Label: self released
Genre: World: Middle East, Contemporary

CD Review by Dawoud Kringle

According to the liner notes, the two key components of tapestry weaving are the warp and the weft. The warp threads are the foundation through which the weft threads are weaved to create the design. In the end, the former is hidden by the design revealed by the later. This is the conceptual foundation of Wisaal.

Wisaa is Will Cicola (clarinet), Ty Forquer (cajon, percussion), Ben Fuhrman (mandolin), Igor Houwat (oud), Mike List (riq, frame drum), and Tim Patterson (double bass). They, like their music, are an aggregate of different people from different schools, histories, and musical worlds. The result of this meeting is an aggregate of styles and genres that come together under the umbrella of Klezmer and Arabic music.

The opening track is a playful romp through a meeting of the Middle East and Europe. Almost as if Mozart had been born in Palestine. This gives way to a lively and manly Klezmer like song that flies in and around the listener.

The CD offers a variety of original compositions and interpretations of music by other composers such as the Rahbani Brothers, Muhammad Abd-el Wahab, Issa Boulos, Navjot Sandhu, Fareed al-Atrash, Dhafer Youssef, and Riyad al-Sunbati.

Some highlights include “Zeina,” a dance piece composed by Muhammad Abdal Wahab, which starts out moody and contemplative, and suddenly breaks free as a wild and passionate dance. There is also “Samai Kurd”; an interpretation of a classical Ottoman musical form adapted by the Arabs. It is played in a ten beat cycle, and its tasleem (theme) is based on the kurd maqam (more or less a phrygian mode).  “Mediterranean Homesick Blues” is an adventurous retelling of the blues form. “Fusion Dance” is even more adventurous in its mixing of forms and musical processes. “Kahramanya” has a strange, smoky suggestion of jazz.

This is music best listened to at night, in a quiet space with loved ones, enjoying good food, a smoke form a shisha, and a warm summer night.