Thursday 24 March 2016

Osmosis is an enterprising new release from Tafahum Records of music by Benjamin Ellin and Louai Alhenawi that brings a seamless and intuitive blending of Western and Arabic traditions

Tafahum  is a new, vibrant and first class fusion group bringing together a core of outstanding, classically trained Eastern and Western musicians led by both critically acclaimed British conductor and composer Benjamin Ellin alongside Syrian born Ney (Middle Eastern flute) soloist Louai Alhenawi .

Tafahum unites composers, performers and audiences in repertoire that features new works, adaptations of traditional folk music and cross genre collaborations between other musical groups as well as other art forms.

The birth of Tafahum (Arabic for ‘understanding’) came from a chance meeting between Ellin and Alhenawi. An invitation to initially present Middle Eastern music workshops at Pembroke Academy of Music in Walworth, London has developed into an expansive collaborative artistic vision. Tafahum mirrors the desire of both Alhenawi and Ellin to learn about each other’s musical traditions, backgrounds and heritage in order to create imaginative, bold and exciting projects that unite under the auspices of art and people.

The members of Tafahum are Benjamin Ellin (composer and conductor), Louai Alhenawi (composer, ney and percussion), Murat Yildirim (saz), Hend Zouari (qanun), Tadasuke Iijima and Jemima Clarke (violins), Brooke Day (viola), Adam Higgs (bass), Heidi Parsons (cello), Gareth McLearnon (flutes and pipes), Charly Jolly (clarinets), Mark Bennett (French horn), Christopher Mundy (piano) and Catherine Ring (percussion).

Now from Tafahum Records comes a new release of works by Benjamin Ellin and Louai Alhenawi entitled Osmosis all performed by Tafahum.

Benjamin Ellin’s Wiladah springs into life with some wonderfully exotic sounds and harmonies yet with a grounding in the Western tradition. There are some great individual sounds from the various instruments particularly the Qanun (a kind of zither). The music moves through mellower, more gently flowing passages where these players create very fine colours and textures, always retaining an underlying rhythmic pulse. Part way there is a striking passage for piano and percussion before the ensemble build the music through some very finely woven passages to the conclusion.

Loulou is another composition by Benjamin Ellin that opens with a lovely theme, delicately harmonised before an Arabic flute emerges. This simple little passage is soon pointed up by drums as the strings join to bring a rich harmony with a subtly Arabic flavour. They move through some gloriously textured passages sometimes quite delicately phrased before picking up a rhythm with the French horn adding its sonority to lead to a gentle coda.

Louai Alhenawi’s Samai Chromatic opens with pizzicato strings before a curiously flowing blend of Western and Arabic styles moves ahead, bringing some ideas that are most engaging, often entertaining in the rhythmically phrased passages. There is a very fine blend of textures and sonorities as well as some lovely little wind phrases before the music finds a syncopated rhythm as the music speeds to the coda.

Drums open Benjamin Ellin’s Tim’s Fair before a riot of instrumental ideas arrives, full of energy. Soon the strings bring a rather folksy theme underneath to which the drums keep a rhythm before the entire ensemble join to add a fuller texture. An Arabic string theme appears, as does a flute idea. When the whole ensemble returns to take the music ahead, the horn comes in over them in as terrific passage. The music quietens to a slow gently shifting passage that reduces at times to just piano and gentle percussion. The slower shifting harmonies continue, with Ellin giving us the most lovely Arabic touches before the music fades in the coda.

Louai Alhenawi’s Sufi Mood opens slowly with an Arabic string motif over a held string chord. Soon a rhythmic motif appears over which a longer breathed theme for horn flows. As the ensemble come together Alhenawi develops a terrific blend of sounds, quite beguiling, building through some particularly strong passages full of fine Arabic influenced ideas.

Benjamin Ellin’s Three Fishes Laughing opens on a long held violin note that rises and falls over which the piano soon adds a motif. Eventually all the ensemble joins in the theme with the strings continuing to bring surges of the longer held line. Drums and percussion add a rhythm as a flute idea emerges and we are led through passages of the most exquisite sonorities and colours, effused with subtle melodic Arabic themes. It is a gentle long held string phrase that leads to the coda.

The piano opens Benjamin Ellin’s Crossing Green in a jaunty repeated idea to which abrasive textures are added by the strings. The music slowly increases in tempo and dynamics as the whole ensemble take the repeated theme forward, adding new textures and ideas on the way. Soon the music quietens as a flute appears with a theme. We are taken through some very fine passages with the most attractive blends of instrumental sounds. Offset rhythms develop as slowly an Arabic inflection arrives. The music drops to a little string motif against various instrumental details creating a lovely passage before the piano’s repeated motif returns, interrupted by other instrumental ideas, around which the wind sounds swirl to the coda.

This disc concludes with Benjamin Ellin’s Sketching Jeffrey which opens with a very fine sonorous theme for strings and winds, the horn sounding over the ensemble. Soon the sound of the Qanun brings a rather timeless feel. Here we have the perfect fusion of East and West as the horn, strings and Qanun blend in the most lovely passages. The music suddenly rises up in a fast moving realisation of the theme, full of exotic instrumental ideas and some particularly deep string textures. Later there is a long breathed, flowing passage where Ellin brings the most lovely sonorities. There are some particularly fine moments for wind instruments as the music progresses with the Qanun bringing an evocative version of the theme over a pulsating instrumental backdrop, soon taken by the horn with exotic percussion ideas. Eventually the piano alone slowly picks out the theme before a simple chord for strings ends the work. 

This is an enterprising new release that brings seamless and intuitive blending of traditions played by this terrific ensemble. They are finely recorded at the Eastcote Studios, London. There are brief notes on the concept of this recording.

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