Aug 29 2013
It’s not every day that a jazz album lists the oud as one of the primary instruments… even rarer when it’s the lead instrument. But on the self-titled debut of the sextet Nashaz, oudist Brian Prunka fuses together Jazz and Arabic music for a recording that sounds unlike anything else while retaining a tunefulness that makes this music as listenable as it is engaging.
By utilizing the music theory of maqam, an approach typical to traditional Arabic music, Nashaz is able to build songs around strong melodies that serve as a launching pad for improvisation. The result is a collection of complex songs that offer up melodies that are both memorable and easy to hum along to.
Your album personnel: Brian Prunka (oud), Kenny Warren (trumpet), Nathan Herrera (alto sax, bass clarinet, alto flute), Apostolos Sideris (bass), George Mel (frame drum, udu drum, cajon, pandeiro & misc. percussion), and Vin Scialla (riq).
This is music that rarely is at rest, and the fluidity of its motion is akin to a form of hypnosis. The casual propulsion of album opener “Hijaz Nashaz” is niftily counterbalanced by Prunka’s furtive oud solo, giving the sense of moving swiftly from the comfort of one’s own chair.
Some tracks, like “Qassabji’s Nightmare,” allow Prunka the opportunity to showcase the oud’s ability to establish a brisk pace and stay out front of the rhythm section. On the other hand, album track “Andalus” has a gentle swaying motion that serves as the perfect vehicle for trumpeter Warren to skim the surface with a solo that smoulders like moonlight.
An element that repeats to great effect throughout the album is the rhythmic bonding that occurs between Sideris’s bass, Scialla’s riq, and Mel’s percussion. The differentiation of their motions is evident, yet the synchronization between the three emits a sound in unison, even when separated by the distance of solos. It is not unlike different gears in different stopwatches acting in concert, and apart from their immediate spheres of influence… something communal.
Herrera has some nice moments on sax and flute, but it’s when he contributes bass clarinet darkness to contrast with oud’s bright shimmering lights that one of the more remarkable aspects of this album’s personality is revealed. And interplay aside, on “Al-Ghayb,” Herrera shows that bass clarinet works just as effectively here on a solo as it does in cohesion with the other moving parts.
The album ends with the buoyant “Ajam,” a song that skips happily along, spurred on by strong contributions from Prunka on oud and Herrera on alto sax. It’s one of those tunes that would be a great choice for closing out a live show, providing plenty of jumping off points for solos and group interplay. At just under six minutes, it’s too brief, and almost certainly will leave the listener wanting more.
And that, really, is about the best way one could bring the curtain down on a recording.
One of the more curious albums I’ve heard this year. Highly recommended.
The album is Self-Produced.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.
Available at Bandcamp.