KERBAJ | SEHNAOUI | SEHNAOUI | ZACH
Mazen Kerbaj | trumpet
Christine Sehnaoui | alto sax
Sharif Sehnaoui | electric guitar
Ingar Zach | percussion
Rouba3i (ruba’i) - the arabic word for quartet - was created in 2002 when three of the pioneering voices of free improvisation in Beirut invited french percussionist Le Quân Ninh to join them for a quartet (rouba3i1). the group works as a trio with a guest percussionist each time.
The 5th version with norwegian drummer Ingar Zach is the first one to be recorded.
all music improvised by kerbaj sehnaoui sehnaoui zach
no cuts | no overdubbing
recorded by vincent fromont on 23rd of august 2004 at bustros residence beirut
mastering ahmad awad
artwork & design mazen kerbaj
produced in lebanon by al maslakh
Selected between the 12 best jazz & Improv albums of 2005 by Wire magazine.
Free improvising from Beirut that is definitely worth tracking down, although just 500 copies have been pressed. "Rouba3i", it seems, derives from the Arabic word for quartet. Trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui and guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui are a trio of Lebanese musicians who invite a series of percussionists to occupy the fourth corner of their group. for this incarnation – the fifth, hence Rouba3i5 - they are joined by Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach, who suits the frictional buzz and burr of their style exceptionally well. Each member of the trio has pared away all obvious instrumental attributes, resulting in sound sources effectively geared to realise a shared musical vision of grainy agitated textures overlaid, overlapped and intersecting. Abstracted sounds seep and trickle, punctuated with pops and staccato chatter, across two pieces that are remarkably consistent in character and quality.
Julian Cowley | The Wire
Several years ago I remember investigating a fine compilation on the A Bruit Secret label entitled From:/To:. Along with contributions from many European electro-acoustic players, I was surprised to note the presence of Sharif Sehnaoui, a guitarist from Lebanon. Lebanon! Who knew? As it turns out, Beirut is home to a really vital scene with young players who have just begun to document their work. While a couple recordings have appeared on Creative Sources, the Al Maslakh label is this scene's own and its first two releases (both limited editions of 500) are killer.
On Rouba3i5 (Al Maslakh 02) Kerbaj is joined by alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui, aforementioned guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, and Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach (the three Lebanese players constitute a regularly working trio who specialize in quartet recordings with invited guests; Ruba'i means "quartet" in Arabic). The recording consists of two substantive improvisations recorded at the Bustros residence in Beirut. What's most impressive about it is the way the very distinct musical personalities combine to create an atmosphere rich with tension. Sharif Sehnaoui's grainy string and pickup manipulations merge wonderfully with Zach's massive textural shapes to form a lush quilt on which the horns can stitch arch patterns. The altoist impressively displays her control of altissimo playing, emerging as a really distinctive voice in this generally low, earthen, organic music (Zach's rubbed tom heads are always delightful to listen to). She gets into a marvelous space with an especially flatulent Kerbaj midway through the first piece, as guitarist Sehnaoui angers an insect hive and Zach dives into subsonar depths. The second piece is still scrapey, slithering, and mostly non-idiomatic, but there is some movement that - relative to the rest of the stuff - can be heard as more idiomatically rhythmic or harmonic. For the most part, however, this is music of long droning passages pregnant with detail and glowing with an intensity that is never given vent. This tension, as if watching clouds gather, makes for some truly fine listening. These records will be difficult to find but are worth the search.
Jason Bivins - dustedmagazine.com
Unbeknownst to most, over the past few years Lebanese players have quietly put together the only improvised music scene in the Middle East outside of Israel. Known as the most sophisticated of Arab nations before the disastrous civil war of 1975 to 1990 and despite recent political instability, Lebanon is still open to outside influences and that’s how a small group of questing players first discovered free music a few years ago.
Since that time this same group has organized infrequent local gigs and hosts a yearly improv fest in Beirut. As an outgrowth of this activity, collaborations between Lebanese and outside musicians are beginning to appear on CD, like three recent releases featuring trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj. Also an artist and author, Kerbaj is the chief cheerleader and coordinator of the nascent scene.
Present as well on Rouba3i5 (Al Maslakh) and Franz Hautinger’s Oriental Space (Artonal)—Kerbaj and Hautzinger’s Abu Tarek (Creative Sources) is the other disc under consideration here—is Lebanese guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, who divides his time between Paris and Beirut and who helps spread the word about local improv. His wife, alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui, who plays on the first CD, took part with Kerbaj in Lebanon’s first-ever improv gig in 2000.
The outsiders present on all three sessions testify to the Lebanese improvisers’ successful outreach program. Oslo-based drummer Ingar Zach, who has worked with people like British guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy came to play at the improv festival and stayed to record Rouba3i5. Viennese trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, who has played with American guitarist Elliott Sharp and British drummer Tony Oxley, met Kerbaj by chance. Since then the two brass explorers have played duo concerts like the one approximated on Abu Tarek in Lebanon and Europe, and work as the Oriental Space quartet adding Sharif Sehnaoui and Vienna-based Helge Hinteregger, who has been part of Chris Burn’s Ensemble as a saxophonist, on sampler.
Using only acoustic instruments, the four members of Rouba3i5 create two multi-faceted improvisations that, perhaps unsurprisingly, aren’t reminiscent of any Middle Eastern sounds. Most impressive is the shorter—well less than 17 minutes—track, “Bustros Session 2”, which, recorded with no cuts and no overdubbing, shows that the four have relaxed into rapprochement.
Launched by a punch from Zach’s bass drum, followed by percussive rumbles and accents, the piece modulates into squeaks from the trumpet and tongue-slaps from the alto saxophone. S. Sehnaoui then elaborates these statements with buzzing feints and what sounds like a drum stick hitting the front of his strings. Splayed strums then characterize his output as C. Sehnaoui expels cavernous blows and the drummer counters with woodpecker-like battering. When Zach transforms those smacks into road drill pressure, the alto squeals as the guitar advances the sort of metallic drones that could emanate from exposed telephone wires. Eventually these pulsations blend into one another, reaching a climax of irregular pitches, sharp oscillations, and constricted cries, as Zach delineates an ending with his finger tips rubbing the drum tops.
Earlier, the almost-23-minute first selection is weakened by hushed passages that appear to lose volume due to lack of direction rather than as a stratagem. Luckily this happens infrequently, but some of the output could be a rehearsal for the finer points made in the second track. Oddly enough, C. Sehnaoui seems bolder here, with a catalogue of gestures that take in grace note expansion plus reed-pops and tongue-slaps. Mixing parakeet-like chirping with altissimo shrills, her sonic space is often invaded by amplifier drones and whammy bar distortions from the guitarist, abrasive scraping and woodpecker patterns from the drummer, and bubbling tones and bumpy spetrofluctuation from trumpeter Kerbaj.
Ken Waxman | One Final Note
I like doing experiments on myself while listening to music. One of them is remaining stuck with headphones in front of muted TV; this way, the most astonishing comparisons between unusual sounds and absurd faces and situations coming from the screen create a mental state where the mix of aural and visual messages literally take any chance of reason out of the equation. I tried this approach with "Rouba 3i5", but the effective raw energy of this quartet is alone capable of generating transcendence without additional tricks. Kerbaj's playing has been influenced by the war sounds he grew accustomed to; indeed there are moments here in which the tension reaches a high degree with only a few instrumental touches. The Sehnaoui brothers, on alto sax and guitar respectively, create a unique fusion of intents with the trumpet player from Beirut; an impressive performance by Zach, who raises percussive clouds of doubt and fear in more than one instance, is the perfect finishing touch in this rational/emotional encounter. A truly engrossing release, revealing sincere communion among four level-headed artists.
Massimo Ricci | touching extreme
Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj is mainly known for his heavy involvement in the improvised scene of his native country. As luck would have it, he was the first soul brave enough to start an improvised movement in the Middle East. In 2001, together with guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, he created MILL association that on a yearly basis curates IRTIJAL, which is an international free music festival in Beirut. Over the last few years, he had an opportunity to improvise together with Jack Wright, Le Quan Ninh, Franz Hautzinger, Toshimaru Nakamura, Michael Zerang, Helge Hinteregger, Jassem Hindi amongst countless others. These two releases have just been issued on a new Lebanese label Al Maslakh, which translates as the slaughterhouse.
"Rouba3i5" is Mazen Kerbaj's trio, which he put together back in 2002. Back then, they invited percussionist Le Quan Ninh to join them to make up a quartet. Each time, this trio works with a different percussionist and this time around they decided to collaborate with the gifted Norwegian Ingar Zach. What is most prominent on this record are the heavily processed sounds of Mazen's trumpet. He mikes his instrument at close range and not unlike Franz Hautzinger; his main motivation seems to be these incredibly tiny micro-tones. Alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui delivers delicate spittle sounds that really do no harm to anyone in close proximity. They simply transcend the air, while guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui produces minute sounds on his instrument. It's not feedback and it's certainly not heavy picking but rather he concentrates on an extremely quiet side of the instrument. Finally, Ingar Zach allows for a lot of interesting sounds - mainly occasional cymbal hisses here and an odd bass drum slam there. There's really nothing too radical or obtrusive. Rather, "Rouba3i5" delivers an album that requires the art of close listening.
Tom Sekowski | Gaz-Eta
The country of Lebanon doesn't pop up regularly in these pages, but it did just in Vital Weekly 480, through the reviews of a CD by Franz Hautzinger and Mazen Kerbaj, as-well as a CD recorded in Beirut. From this distance it's hard to guess to what extend there is any sort of music scene in Lebanon, which would cover the music normally featured in Vital Weekly, but these two releases surely fit very well. The Lebanese word Ruba'i means quartet and it's a trio of Lebanese musicians and a guest percussionist, hence the name Rouba3i5. Mazen Kerbaj plays trumpet, Christine Sehnaoui on alto saxophone, Sharif Sehnaoui on guitar and the Norwegian Ingar Zach on percussion (on an other occasion Le Quan Ninh was their guest). The two lengthy cuts here were recorded live, with no overdubs or edits. This is something that can be heard, since sometimes it seems that the four of them are searching for the right spot and tension fails here and there. However most of the times, they are on top of things and tension is certainly there. It's there that they display their qualities as improvisers, and they play somewhere between the modern and old kind of tradition. Their techniques are that of the instruments as objects, although occasional the scraping of the guitar with a bow can be heard. Quite some intense playing going on.
Frans de Waar | Vital Weekly
The highly experimental approach of the host trio encourages a sonic exploration along the parameters of noise typology. All manner of sources, objects and techniques are used towards the creation of a sound collage. In other instances, more textural, fricative threads are woven into agglutinating tapestries of deeper color and density.
Pedro Lopez | modisti.com
Al Maslakh's second release proves that his (Kerbaj) motivations aren't confined to doing parlor tricks. Rouba3i consists of Kerbaj, Christine Sehnaouit on alto sax, her husband Sharif Sehnaoui on guitar, and a guest percussionist (ruba'i is Arabic for quartet). Their first recording took place around the time of one of the Irtijal festivals, and features Norwegian percussionist
Ingar Zach. They make no references to traditional Middle Eastern music; in fact, the players are so inclined towards extended technique that it's hard to tell who is making which sounds. And somewhat beside the point -- this is collective music, concerned with texture and impact, not individual instrumental statements. My favorite moment comes about halfway through the second of two tracks, when they break through an episode of "sounds-like" playing -- if you walked in on the cd unawares, you might think you were hearing a field recording off urban warfare -- and into a gorgeously layered array of sustained sounds, each as colorful as rays of light glancing off polluted air just before the sun goes down. Harshness and beauty, inextricably interwoven -- you can't ask for more.
Bill Meyer | Signal To Noise
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