Hejira: Not of This World – CD review (two years old)
What do you do when you find yourself in a strange country knowing no one, having nothing, and then Dan Baragiano discovers you? You become grateful. What do you do when you discover first chair cello player Ashraf Hakim in Seattle, having nothing, knowing no one, and considering a dog house as a place to live? You become grateful. So their story, their hejira together, begins.
The two virtuosos also discovered together that getting onto Whidbey Island on a Friday afternoon requires some planning. A tad harried at first, the two quickly reveal what their true natures are: grateful musicians and friends. The respond well to their audience and each other, and truth be told, when two players are together, they need to be good. There is no hiding behind the bass, drums, or keyboards here. It’s just these two virtuosos.
Their new album Not of This World is a compilation of eleven originals and one traditional. It reflects the world/jazz influences both men share. Don’s education was the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, and in the 80s he was invited to a private audience/master class with King Faud’s Master Musician, Hazmah Mohammad Al-Bashir. Ashraf attended the High Institute for Arabic Music and then was first chair cellist at the Cairo Opera House for 16 years. I’ll let you learn the rest of the details of their story when you go see them. They won’t disappoint.
Though they have played with as many as 6 members in the group, the current incarnation is the two, and it makes the two instruments stand out in their respective beauties. For example, listen to the beginning of the song Hejira, with the cello laying down a bass riff in the back so elegant, so subtle. They merge, and then both take off, taking flight together complementing each other’s solos, until they end on a percussion aspect which has to be seen to be truly enjoyed. It ends with a percussion duet, played on their instruments, displaying further knowledge of what those instruments are capable of in the right hands.
This guitar/cello combination produces the sort of sound that is both haunting and produces goose bumps, as heard in Love is a Miracle. It has up-tempo parts, some real “getting down” on the cello and it reminds one of a Middle East version of Acoustic Alchemy. Their trading back and forth, and the occasional Beatle riff (Persian 6) that Don lays down, the jazz that both men explore, make their sound incredibly unique and enjoyable.
The one traditional song is actually one the Beach Boys covered as well, and if you listen, you’ll hear the refrains. Miserlou has a broad tale in the Middle East and has also been covered by many other bands, and the guitar player Dick Dale’s version was in the movie Pulp Fiction.
Trance Dance has some of that lovely dissonance that jazz is known for, and more of the contemporary song riffs appear in Under a Crescent Moon. Two songs (Moroccan Roll and Makesum Jam) on the CD are live, and feature the full band sound. Garoon opens with the sound that attracts so many people to the cello, and features a breadth of playing styles, strumming, plucking, and bowing. Karshlama is a Turkish uneven beat 9/8 rhythm, is a common dance feature of the Black Sea area, and is an appropriate opening to an album, as the word means “Greeting!”
Two delightful, grateful, very human beings giving us music that is Not of This World. Hejira!