Passport – Omar Rahbany

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From the menacing first notes through to the rhythmic guitar and recorded vocals of the last track, this album offers an utterly intriguing and well thought out journey for those interested in pushing the notions of modern European music. I’m unable to adequately encapsulate the sheer breadth of the album. It flits between joyous, cinematic, jazzy, and more and is nothing quite like anything I’ve heard recently.

The album opens with the ‘Overture’, in classic style, introducing us to the quality of what is to come and also a window into the breadth of instrumentation at play. Front and centre is the modern coming together of Eastern European and Western styles. It is sharply followed by a rain laden lament of a vocal performance, supported by a very rich ensemble, the vocals playing a perfect complement to the composition. The pianist stands out from this track and throughout the remainder of the album, with some awesome technical playing. The string sections are lush and add a great sense of depth. ‘Zook: The Power Station’ takes the Eastern European themes further and creates a lovely cinematic vibe, with some really interesting chord sequences.

‘Programmusik Babel’ is a particular highlight which gives an unapologetic 11 minutes of jazz fusion, allowing composer, ensemble and soloists (great guitar, keys and trumpet work) the chance to work together. It is reminiscent of fusion work from the seventies and incorporates recorded clips to great effect. It is the kind of thing I imagine that the Houdini’s would create if given the instrumentation available here. ‘Tango’ is as much of a tango as Omar is going to have allow in this context and moves into ‘The untitled’ which I felt could have been a coda rather than a separate track. ‘Mouwachahat’ drops group vocals into the mix and ‘Ankaria’ pushes firmly against any musical boundaries enough to keep listening attention high. ‘Trip to the Moon’ brings us to ‘End credits’ where the curtain drops heavy. Once you’ve got this far, your ears and brain need a moment to understand what has just passed through them! Beautiful and extravagant, testing and pushing expectations but always interesting and played with passion and professionalism, taking us through this journey.

The production is outstanding, with great clarity on a wide range of instrumentation (180 players no less, so fair play to the technicians dealing with microphone placement on all that lot!) although from time to time the lower bass frequencies seemed to dominate, but nothing significant enough to spoil enjoyment.

Omar hails from Beirut and you can hear the cultural melting pot in the music he composes. This work is a significant undertaking, with 180 musicians taking part and Omar composing all of the work – the composition alone is a serious feat. He comes from a family of serious artists in dance, playwrights and music and it very much feels like he is continuing a familial narrative of cultural expression.

The album could be viewed as being self-indulgent at times and there is such a huge variety of sounds, composition styles, time changes, time signature changes and time graduations that it often turns into a challenging listen. But that is what becomes very enchanting about the album. I’ll not come across anything like it anytime soon and so if you love your composition thick with interest and passionate playing, then this will shine on your CD rack like a star full of Eastern promise.

Keith Nicholson

Keith Nicholson
I'm a trumpet player and fan of all kinds of music but jazz and classical are my bae.

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