Permission to Evaporate

Joseph Tawadros, with Christian McBride, James Tawadros, Matt McMahon, Mike Stern
Jazz, Middle Eastern, World
ABC Music 481 0917
Reviewed by , July 1st, 2014

Joseph Tawadros is prolific and adventurous. He is Australia’s leading exponent of the oud, a North African and Middle Eastern lute. He is also a trailblazer in cross-cultural music collaboration and a two-time ARIA Award winner for Best World Music Album.

Permission To Evaporate was recorded in New York in just two days in February 2014. If you have the good fortune to listen to this CD you will realise how remarkable it is that it could be recorded in such a short time frame. I had to call Joseph Tawadros to confirm that this is correct and he informed me that day one was in fact just half a day due a blizzard in New York. Amazing! Tawadros was working with a super group that includes Christian McBride, one of the world’s leading jazz musicians on double bass, Mike Stern, a premiere jazz-fusion player on electric guitar, Matt McMahon, one of Australia’s finest keyboard players and composers on piano and his brilliant brother James Tawadros on req and bendir (Middle-Eastern hand percussion). This album is a wondrous ride through Tawadros’s vivid musical imagination, accompanied by some of the most outstanding players in the world.

The group rehearsing: James, Joe, Mike and Matt

The group rehearsing: James, Joe, Mike and Matt

Some of the tempos are bewilderingly fast while others are serene and introspective. There are tracks of joyous celebration like Bluegrass Nikriz (yes, bluegrass oud with some “rock” guitar; this must be a first!) and Constantinople. Tracks like the title Permission to Evaporate, Space in Time and Peace for My Father are lyrical, atmospheric and emotionally moving. The solo oud piece Wanderer is a real treat. Eyes closed and I’m in the desert of Jordan or walking through the ancient city of Petra. The bass and oud duet Kindred Spirits has two players playing as one. A track titled Leunig at Midnight should encourage any listener’s curiosity.

The time signatures are often very unusual for the western ear but the rhythmic movement is always accessible and the groove is never forced or jerky. With this band 7/4 or 11/8 time is surprisingly danceable. The rhythmic complexity of a track like Sleight of Hand presents a puzzle for the trained ear that would be enjoyable, if intriguing, to any listener.

The album is beautifully recorded, mixed and mastered. It’s very long, 16 tracks totalling 80 minutes but it’s always interesting, engaging and inventive. The quality of all the players is extraordinary. They way they interact and blend is so beautiful, often playing long melodic passages in brilliant unison then dividing into improvisational flights of fancy to return to the exciting unison for which Arabic music is famous.

Joseph Tawadros, oud player

Joseph Tawadros, oud player

Very few bass players could keep up with the demands of the Tawadros compositional style for such speed and accuracy. The electric guitar is so sympathetic as almost to sound like a Middle-Eastern flute in the traditional passages while contributing wonderfully to the sonic landscape when it leaps out into jazz and rock timbres. Matt McMahon is my favourite Australian pianist and that is drawing a very long bow. He never fails to complement every project he plays in while also demonstrating his prodigious talent and skill. James Tawadros is a fine percussionist who never dominates and always plays the perfect rhythmic accompaniment to this extraordinary music. And then there is the oud, magical, mysterious and mesmerising.

Mike Stern says “I know a little bit about the oud and I’ve come across some pretty accomplished players but this cat’s got some other stuff happening that’s really special”. He certainly does. Christian McBride, the virtuoso double bass player, says “This music is really good and very difficult. I’ve never player with an oud player before. Joey is quite virtuosic on that instrument”. He certainly is. Stern says “His brother James has got some shit. I mean he sounds like a whole drum kit with just his hands”– and he certainly does.

Tawadros says that this album has broken new ground. He’s right. The oud here is playing chords and arpeggios with traditional melodies and lots of jazz influence. “I’ve always tried to push the oud into new territory. And although I love traditional oud playing, I feel there is room for growth and still much to discover”. A great many of us are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in his fascinating journey of discovery.

Permission to Evaporate is Joseph Tawadros at his best with an illustrious ensemble of great musicians. I have not had it out of my CD player since my first listening.

VIEW: Watch a great 8-minute doco about Permission to Evaporate:

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