How best to describe this haunting and lyrical music, performed by three Syrian musicians and an Italian percussionist, living in four European countries? Perhaps simply, as the promotional video does, as a combination of Arabic and contemporary music.
Certainly, the only obvious touchstone with jazz was the saxophones: but even there Basel Rajoub’s sinuous melodies and microtonal shifts in pitch sounded distinctly Arabic – even more so with the woody and breathy timbres of the duclar, an instrument that combines the recorder-like body of a duduk with a clarinet mouthpiece.
All the musicians excelled, individually and collectively. Feras Chahrestan played the qanun (a Middle Eastern zither-like instrument) with a shimmering delicacy, while anyone inured to the tambourine because of the unimaginative ‘shake and rattle’ way in which it’s usually misplayed will have had their ears stretched wide by Andrea Piccioni’s virtuoso playing of it and frame drums. Especially in his solo, Piccioni coaxed an astonishing range of timbres and rhythms from his drums with everything from rapid strumming to running a wet finger over the skin to produce wineglass-like drones – artfully picked up by saxophone. In the latter part of the concert, Lynn Adib joined to weave graceful vocals into the tapestry.
Soriana translates as “Our Syria”. In the light of the current Syrian refugee crisis and Friday evening’s terrorist attack on Paris, believed to be the work of a Syrian cell, the message of this music – beautiful, delicate, empathetic – seemed particularly poignant and life-affirming. “Yes”, the rapturous applause and smiles as the musicians took their bows seemed to say, “this shared joy is what Syria means to us.”