Gord Grdina is also the guitarist in indie songwriter/sweetheart Dan Mangan’s band, as well as maintaining various side projects. This one, Haram, on its latest album Her Eyes Illuminate, showcases Arabic classical music in a contemporary setting, with players originating from the indie music scene as well as classical, jazz, and folk backgrounds.
This combination of influences benefits all aspects of the music. Tunefulness makes the classical idioms more accessible, but the compositional structure and traditional scales elevate the pieces far beyond the “world-beat background music” stereotype. We’re drawn in by the sinuous saxophone lines on “Raqs al Jamal (Dance of Beauty)”, and Grdina’s masterful oud playing provides a solid underpinning throughout. Also, the horn section is kick-ass.
“Sharpening” begins with the unsettling sound of a knife being whetted on a stone, and the addition of various auxiliary percussion instruments about a minute in does nothing to alleviate the sense of foreboding this opening creates. This is dark music – it’s enjoyable to listen to, yes, but there is always an undercurrent of shadow, a sense that something is building, encroaching, pursuing. It drives the rhythms and propels the melodic lines, and that is what makes us want to listen.
Speaking of propulsion, the percussionists in this musical unit are certainly earning their keep. Kenton Loewen provides indie cred from his time as a drummer with Dan Mangan, as well as his own band The Crackling, with Tim Gerwing and Liam MacDonald providing Eastern grooves on darbuka and riq, respectively. All these chops are shown off to great effect on the percussion-bass-oud-jam opening of “En Shakwat al Hawa (If You Complain About Love).” No complaints here.
This is a solid collection of music from a solid collective. If you’re looking to expand your musical horizons, Haram will certainly provide an Eastern viewpoint. Let your ears illuminate.
The album is available via iTunes.
If you’re looking to expand your musical horizons, Haram will certainly provide an Eastern perspective.