Al Maslakh
al maslakh (the slaughterhouse) is a ufo created to publish the unpublishable in the lebanese artistic scene


Michael Zerang
| drums, darbuka and percussions


01 | Sharif Sehnaoui acoustic guitar | 06.39
02 | Mazen Kerbaj trumpet | 11.24
03 | Raed Yassin tapes & electronics | 15.03
04 | Christine Sehnaoui alto sax | 06.35
05 | Charbel Haber electric guitar | 04.31
06 | Jassem Hindi electronics | 11.33
07 | Bechir Saadé nay | 05.09

recorded between 3rd and 14th of april 2006 at the grand music room of the bustros palace, beirut
recorded by marc codsi
mixed and mastered by lou mallozzi at the experimental sound studio, chicago

special thanks to
the illinois arts council - a state agency
the weasel foundation
nayla bustros

artwork and design by mazen kerbaj

produced in lebanon by al maslakh


On 1st of April 2006, I arrived in Beirut for the second time. My first visit was the previous year for Irtijal 05 with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. I was going back because I couldn't get enough of the place and the people.
For Irtijal 06, I played duos with David Stackenäs and Axel Dörner. Locally I became engaged in several projects, but the most exciting was the recording sessions with seven of Lebanon's most interesting improvisers. Engineer Marc Codsi set up his equipment in the grand music room of the Bustros Palace in the Achrafieh District, and over one week, Christine Sehnaoui, Béchir Saadé, Jassem Hindi, Mazen Kerbaj, Raed Yassin, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Charbel Haber each came in for a full improvisation session.
I let the recordings sit unattended until the 11th of July 2006, when I returned home after nearly 4 months on the road. The next day, the “July War” broke and lasted 34 days. I tried to keep in daily contact with those in Beirut and devoured every piece of news I could find. This is when I began listening to the sessions and making preliminary selections, trying to configure each one into a natural sequence. There was so much good material that I could have made at least 5 different sequences. For me, listening to the music in this very special time made it all a quite intense experience, a unique way to get closer to those who had become my friends.
I was told there are few cedars left in Lebanon. But there are at least 8 CEDARHEADS!

Michael Zerang
Bern, Switzerland
23 November 2006


Participant two years running in Irtijal, Beirut’s improvised music festival (see CODA 323), Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang recorded these duos with seven Lebanese players during his second visit. The resulting CD is not only a fascinating document of a little-heard musical scene, but also proof that provocative sounds can arise in an isolated, war-torn country.
Product of one of the Middle East’s most sophisticated cultures, the Beirut improvisers make their statements using everything from guitar, trumpet and saxophone to futuristic electronics to the traditional wind instrument, the nay. Zerang, whose arsenal ranges from the standard drum kit to miscellaneous percussion, includes in it the darbuka or North African hourglass-shaped drum used to accompany belly dancers, to make a memorable connection with musicians..
Trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, whose approach involves rolling and bubbling tongue bubbles, grace note buffers and capillary brays, generates a measured response from Zerang, who uses abrasive drum top pitter patter press rolls and cymbal rasps. Matched with the fading in-and-out electronic flutters and tangled radio signals from Raed Yassin, the drummer offloads his darbuka expertise. With Yassin flanging his raw material so that portions of undulating Arabic chanting and political discourse are stretched and splintered to create whooshing, non-verbal sounds, Zerang’s conga-like strokes give the presentation a rhythmic bottom.
These blunt, thick but multiple percussion resonation also help move the airy, pinched timbres of Bechir Saadé’s nay out of the realm of snake-charming. Propelling tensile percussion strokes so that the resulting rigidity is released through multiphonics, the uneven altissimo pitch of Saadé’s wooden cylinder gets 21st Century resonance.
Ken Waxman | CODA Issue 336

Dopo due dischi dedicati rispettivamente al duo fra il clarinettista Gene Coleman e il contrabbassista Raed Yassin [The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi] e a quello fra il sax soprano di Tom Chant e la chitarra acustica di Sharif Sehnaoui [Cloister], molto interessanti sono le due uscite più recenti, Cedarhead e Mawja-Studio One.
Sotto la sigla Cedarhead troviamo nuovamente Micheal Zerang in una stimolante serie di duetti: tornato nuovamente a Beirut per l'edizione 2006 del festival Irtjal, il batterista ha incrociato poi le armi con alcuni improvvisatori libanesi, per alcune sedute di registrazione che - al di là dell'esito espressivo - sono estremamente significative del desiderio di condividere i linguaggi sonori. Non potevano ovviamente non essere coinvolti lo stesso Mazen Kerbaj, i due Sehnaoui, Raed Yassin [qui all'elettronica], ma anche Charbel Haber alla chitarra, Jassem Hindi all'elettronica e Bechir Saadé al nay.
Ne viene fuori un affresco davvero composito, fatto di acuminate esplorazioni, di sogni lo-fi mediorientali [splendido il brano con Yassin], di tradizioni destrutturate e di preziose scorticature timbriche [il lavoro con Charbel Haber], nella direzione di una musica improvvisata che se per molti aspetti si può inquadrare nel solco di una ricerca che in Europa e Usa ha già fissato da tempo ipotesi per un vocabolario mutante, diventa una inevitabile pietra angolare per la scena libanese.
Enrico Bettinello | All About Jazz - Italia

This set of duo improvisations between Swiss percussionist Michael Zerang and seven among the most gifted Lebanese free musicians was originally finished a few weeks before the "July War" broke up in 2006, thus assuming an emblematic value for Zerang, who feels a strong link with the Beirut scene and has been involved in many occasions there. It was also a "unique way to get closer to those who had become (his) friends" in those hard times. The participants were Sharif Sehnaoui (electric guitar), Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet), Raed Yassin (tapes & electronics), Christine Sehnaoui (alto sax), Charbel Haber (electric guitar), Jassem Hindi (electronics) and Bechir Saadé (nay). Putting aside any useless try to individuate a thread between the improvisations - except of course the presence of Zerang, who plays drums, darbuka and percussion - what remains is the chance of finding precious moments of enjoyment of raw materials and lucid interplay along several tentative juxtapositions of ideas that flourish as a direct consequence of the common ground shared by the artists. In that sense the duo with Yassin, a great combination of Arabic samples, incessant darbuka patterns and disobedient electronic eruptions, is plainly and simply a satisfying listen; the initial comparison between the most frictional aspects of Zerang's playing and the quasi-Frithian guitar of Sharif Sehnaoui are pretty intriguing, too. Even more interesting is the duo with Haber who, in less than five minutes, alternates sounds that mesh crickets and electric drills from his strings and pickups. Everything is surpassed, though, by the single most enthralling fragment of the whole disc, around 5:30 of the piece with Hindi: a moment of total trance that words just can't explain, all my activities suddenly put in standby mode. As usual with Al Maslakh, don't expect anything less than uncontaminated, even if this can be a little bit taxing on your usual taste
Massimo Ricci | Touching Extreme

This record has an American’s name on the cover, but it functions as a handy survey of the nascent Lebanese free improv scene, as well as an opportunity to consider Michael Zerang’s diverse musical skills. No other American improviser has gotten so deeply involved with the Lebanese as this Assyrian-American percussionist, an essential figure on Chicago’s improvised music scene since the bleak days of the ’70s and ’80s. Back then there was no Empty Bottle or Hungry Brain or Velvet Lounge, and the only places musicians had to play were the ones they provided themselves. Zerang learned early that you can’t just be a player to play this music, and shouldered the responsibilities of self-organizing venues and engaging with arts institutions in order to keep the music alive.
Zerang’s cognizance of art as an essential force, an expression that can never be taken for granted, probably has a lot to do with the sympathetic connection he’s established with the Lebanese, who deal with basic survival challenges and a difficult but fertile milieu. Their country has a complex, Euro-conscious culture that’s permitted a level of independent thought not available to many other Middle Eastern countries; even so, the nation has struggled in vain to transcend its regional inheritance of internal conflict and foreign intervention.
But Zerang and the Lebanese are also quite musically compatible. He, like guitarists Chabel Haber and Sharif Sehnaoui, saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui, and trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, is especially concerned with extended technique. There are long stretches in Zerang’s duos with those players where it’s hard to tell what instruments are being played, let alone what’s being done to them, and it proves necessary to check the track listing for clues. Is that metallic rattle coming from choked guitar strings, a trumpet played into a biscuit tin through rubber tubes, or a cymbal? More importantly, why do they choose these sounds? All of these musicians renounce the hand dealt to them each time they pick up their instrument, and the act of playing becomes self-determination. “Screw your rules and your game,” the say; “I’m playing my way, and within that way I’m a master.”
And they are. Whether they match drum skin groans to overblown reeds or Sonic Youth-like string swells to tumbling beats, each encounter is a study in thoughtful, flexible, spontaneous engagement.
Zerang is also a long-time student of Middle Eastern music, something that cannot be said for all of his partners here. Only nay (flute) player Bechir Saadé overtly references the sound of music that came before Peter Brötzmann or the Music Improvisation Company. Zerang’s frame drum embroiders Saadé’s probing, mournful lines with elaborate filigree and a sturdy pulse absent from the more outré sounds explored in the aforementioned encounters. And through his work with groups like Liof Munimula and Jumper Cables, Zerang has dealt with electronics for decades; his skin-scouring and dry rattles mesh perfectly with Jassem Hindi’s squiggles and shortwave noise on the penultimate track.
The most exciting moment on Cedarhead comes when these two strands tie together in Zerang’s encounter with Raed Yassin. During Yassin’s recent visit to the USA, he proved himself to be an able bassist, but this track suggests that his greatest skill lies in his work with tape and electronics. Yassin tugs tape over playback heads, obtaining stuttering sound bites with the facility of a hip-hop turntablist. He adroitly mixes snippets of radio broadcasts with synthetic swooshes and whistles to create a dizzying ride, driven by Zerang’s galloping darbekki (a.k.a. darbuka, dumbek, or darabouka). The radio wave travelogue evolves into a splatter-fest of noise cushioned by psychedelic echo effects; solemn voices intrude, a snatch of easy listening music flickers in and out like a promise of peace, then transistorized buzzes rain down like a meteor shower. Played three months before Hamas kidnapped that soldier and Israel bombed Beirut’s airport, plunging the country back into war, Yassin and Zerang foretold all with sound. This music’s survival and distribution is a triumph over the laws of entropy and the gods of war.
Bill Meyer | Dusted Magazine

Michael Zerang po raz pierwszy odwiedzil Beirut w lipcu 2005, W duecie z Peterem Brötzmannem wystapil wówczas na festiwalu Irtijal 05. Zachwycony miejscem oraz jego atmosfera, zauroczony poznanymi tam ludzmi: artystami i sluchaczami, po niespelna roku powrócil na kolejna edycje tego festiwalu muzyki improwizowanej.
Pierwsza wizyte upamietniono koncertowym albumem "Live In Beirut" duetu Brötzmann/Zerang, poklosiem drugiej jest omawiana plyta. W odróznieniu od wczesniejszej, ta nie zawiera muzyki zarejestrowanej podczas festiwalu Irtijal 06, na którym Zerang zagral dwa koncerty (w duetach z Davidem Stäckenasem oraz Axelem Dörnerem), lecz material studyjny. Jest on owocem wspólpracy z siódemka libanskich improwizatorów zwiazanych z Al Moukhtabar - pierwsza w tym kraju formacja z kregu muzyki stricte eksperymentalnej. Przez blisko dwa tygodnie, miedzy 3. a 14. kwietnia 2006 r., w sali koncertowej bejruckiego Palais de Bustros (siedziby Ministerstwa Spraw Zagranicznych) rozbrzmiewala muzyka improwizowana. Wszystkie sesje rejestrowal Marc Codsi,
nastepnie, juz w Chicago, material zmiksowal Lou Mallozzi. Tam tez Michael Zerang dokonal ostatecznego wyboru i ustalil liste utworów, które znalazly sie na "Cedarhead". Jest ich siedem, kazde nagrane w duecie z innym muzykiem.
Podczas tych sesji Michael Zerang gral na perkusji i darbuce oraz instrumentach perkusyjnych; dialogowali z nim dwaj gitarzysci, trebacz, saksofonistka, dwóch "elektroników" (jeden z nich dodatkowo posilkuje sie tasmami, zas drugi - byc moze, bo nie uwzgledniono tego w opisie, samplami) oraz Bechir Saadé grajacy na tradycyjnym flecie ney. I w wlasciwie wylacznie
w grze tego ostatniego wyrazniejsze sa jakies bliskowschodnie elementy. Pozostala szóstka, budujac swoje improwizacje na bazie rozszerzonych technik artykulacyjnych lub elektronicznych i pladrofonicznych preparacji, wykorzystala brzmienia, formy i struktury, które wlasciwie niczym nie róznia sie od tych znanych z plyt artystów europejskich czy amerykanskich. Haber, Hindi, Kerbaj, malzonkowie Sehnaoui oraz Yassin wydaja sie byc w swej muzyce mniej lewantynscy niz ich gosc z Chicago, który w co, choc doskonale odnajduje sie w swiecie sonorystycznych ekstrawagancji, to najmniej dwóch nagraniach pokazuje, ze nieobca jest mu równiez i finezja bliskowschodnich
Utwory zawarte na "Cedarhead" podzielic mozna na trzy grupy. Pierwsza tworza te, w których Zerangowi partneruja gitarzysci Sharif Sehnaoui i Charbel Haber, trebacz Mazen Kerbaj oraz saksofonistka Christine Sehnaoui. Sonorystyczna improwizacja w wykonaniu kazdego z czterech duetów doskonale wpisuje sie w kanony gatunku, delikatnie dryfujac po jego lagodniejszych i
stonowanych obszarach. Muzycy niespiesznie przeksztalcaja plataniny mniej lub bardziej subtelnych dzwieków w otwarte, lekko azurowe formy. Druga grupa to, zagrane z Raedem Yassinem i Jassemem Hindi, kilkunastominutowe softnoise'owo-pladrofoniczno-quasietniczne improwizacje. Senne zmory, psychodeliczne majaki sklecone z przenikajacych sie partii
surowej elektroniki, nagran terenowych, tradycyjnych rytmów, strzepków piosenek,znieksztalconych glosów oraz szumów zaskakuja i zachwycaja swym wyrafinowanym turpizmem. To dla mnie najciekawsza czesc plyty.
Ostatnia grupe tworzy jeden utwór. Wienczaca plyte wyprawa w glab wschodniej tradycji koi subtelnym pieknem melodii i szlachetna prostota rytmu. Grajacy na darbuce Zerang i flecie nay Saadé zasypuja przepasc miedzy tym co stare i tym, co nowe, po raz kolejny dowodzac, ze tak naprawde sa tylko dwa rodzaje muzyki: dobra i zla.
Polecam "Cedarhead", bo dominuje na niej ten pierwszy.
Tadeusz Kosiek | Diapazon

On his second visit to Beirut, percussionist Michael Zerang decided to collaborate with seven musicians from the local scene. In each track, he placed himself firmly in a true collaborative spirit. Mentally, this was a challenging task, as recordings took just over a week to materialize. Three month later, in July 2006, war on Lebanon had begun. It was only then that Zerang decided on the sequence of the pieces and began the editing process. Zerang admits, he found so much interesting music, he could've made 5 different sequences to make up the final recording. Each piece is a highlight in its own right. His duo with Raed Yassin on tapes and electronics, features a mish-mash of some fine darbuka playing from the leader, while the air is filled with various tape collages and glitchy electronic noises. The piece with trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj doesn't give away the source of Kerbaj's instrument. If anything, the trumpet sounds alien - with the gentle spittle sounds more akin to a construction site. With guitarist Charbel Haber, Zerang pursues variety - rattling on hi-hats, smacking the sides of the cymbals, while Haber gives off some peculiar throttling string sounds. One of the most satisfying pieces is the album's final duo, one with Bechir Saade, who plays the nay. The lute instrument gives off a stark contrast to Zerang's gentle darbuka rhythm. Highly satisfying album from beginning to end, one that leaves one screaming for more exposure of Lebanese music scene.
Tom Sekowski | Gaz-Eta

In the past we reviewed three other releases from this interesting label: albums by Gene Coleman and Raed Yassin, Peter Brötzmann and Michael Zerang, and another one by Tom Chant and Sharif Sehnaqui. The Al Maslakh label is closely associated with the Irtijal Festival of Improvised Music in Beirut. This festival emerged in 2000 and was a first sign of the appearance of a new generation of musicians from Lebanon that are interested in adventurous music. In order to document this new scene the Al Maslakh label was established. An interesting label not only because of the quality of its releases, but also because it is a label from Libanon, a corner in the world where you don't expect improvised music to come from. So it is a pleasure that we can introduce now two new releases. Like earlier releases it has Lebanese musicians in a meeting with western improvisors. Chicago-based Michael Zerang changed the States for the second time for Beirut, for a series of duo concerts with local improvisors. The CD 'Cedarhead' documents seven of these meetings. It has has Michael Zerang (drums, darbuka, percussion) playing duos with Sharif Sehnaoui (electric guitar), Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet), Raed Yassin (tapes & electronics), Christine Sehnaoui (alto sax), Charbel Haber (electric guitar), Jassem Hindi (electronics) and Bechir Saadé (nay). Recordings were made in april this year at the Grand Music Room of the Bustros Palace in Beirut. The duets differ in many respects. Two of them have Zerang playing in the company of the electric guitar by respectively, Sharif Sehnaoui and Charbel Haber. Both players make use of extended techniques. Also the playing of Mazen Kerbaj on trumpet is far from usual, whereas Christine Sehnaoui stays more close to the common sound coming from the alto sax. In general, all these musicians have a high standard concerning their technical abilities. Between Raed Yassin (tapes & electronics) and Zerang grows a lengthy improvisation with deformed soundmaterial from radio broadcasts and eastern rhythms played on the darbuka. In the duet with Jassem Hindi a noisy treatment of sounds is in battle with subtle sounds from Zerang's percussion. Totally different in character is the closing piece with Bechir Saade on nay and Zerang again on darbuka. An improvisation moving from or towards middle eastern music?! Most pieces on this cd could also come from Europe or America, as they move within the patterns, etc. that were developed within this kind of improvised music. And also because these improvisations deal a lot about sound. Only the last track is overtly grounded in eastern traditions, not only in the way the instruments are played but also concerning the musical structure along which they improvise.
Dolf Mulder | Vital Weekly

That the creativity of the Beirut improvised music scene should have to toil within an environment of destabilizing violence and the crushing interference and indifference of competing world powers is just one of the massive cultural tragedies that continues to unfold in this part of the world. That such a vital subculture can thrive - as evidenced by the astonishing beauty found on the Al Maslakh label - is a profound testament of the perseverance and raw survival instincts of art. Chicago-based drummer Michael Zerang writes movingly about editing these master recordings from his second trip to Beirut to play with these intense and talented players as the "July War" of 2006 was unfolding. With a personal connection he had developed to a community now again under fire the documentation of Cedarhead takes on an urgency and stark sonic beauty that reverberates throughout these seven improvisations. The religious and political differences that spark such unrest seems petty compared to the artistic expression that it imperils. With generous use of extended techniques each performance finds the timbral range of drums, electric guitar, trumpet, electronics, saxophone and flute pulled closer together for an astonishing intimacy of sound between these players. The brief improvisation between Zerang and guitarist Charbel Haber mines a particularly fascinating zone of interaction and sound.
Devin Hurd | HurdAudio

In April 2006, Chicago based percussionist Michael Zerang traveled to Beirut to work with a group of local improvisers he first hooked up with on a tour with Peter Brötzmann. Cedarhead compiles the best of those sessions, with Zerang playing drums, darbuka and percussion alongside a range of stylists, from the tape and electronics work of Raed Yassin and the trumpet of Mazen Kerbaj through the ney of Bechir Saadé and the electric guitars of Sharif Sehnaoui and Charbel Haber. Of the guitarists Haber is particularly inventive, drawing serrated, awkwardly articulate drones and pinging single notes from his instrument in a refreshingly monosyllabic style while Zerang works fleet consrtellations of tones and skin into a series of alternate orbits. Yassin constant flux of radio sounds, wonky tapes and wowing effects see Zerang focusing on the occasional snatches of music and working through well-imagined rhythmic extrapolations. The closing duet with Saadé's ney is both the most effective and the most traditionally sourced, with Saadé working breathy, devotional phrases around Zerang's elastic trance conceptions, recalling Don Cherry and Ed Blackwekk's Fourth World stylings on the epochal Mu set.
David Keenan | The Wire

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