Emil Zrihan, cantor of the Ashkelon synagogue in Israel, follows up his hair-raising Arabo-Andalus debut album Ashkelon [Piranha 1260] with L'Youm Dima whose liner notes exclusively in Arabian prevent background commentary other than to report on the music directly. The most immediately noteworthy thing about Emil Zrihan is the power and range of his elastic voice which, at full boogie, reaches quasi-castrati counter-tenor heights with the most astonishing ease while being balanced on the other end by a comfortable low tenor.
The ensemble around the vocalist consists of traditional Middle-Eastern banjo, oud, ney, violin orchestra and the ubiquitous derbouka, tar and bendir percussion. For a fetching mix of traditional and modern, it then also adds keyboards, electric and acoustic guitar and bass. Samira Saïd, a well-known Middle Eastern Tarab/Raï solo vocalist in her own right, backs up the fiery cantor whose astonishing vocal prowess has not only earned him the nickname of Moroccan nightingale but projects a distinctly jubilant spirit. Nabil Khalidi who sits in on banjo and ney also provides the majority of original compositions which place the rollicking "Bent Bladi" on piano-driven Salsa rhythms while the instrumentation of massed strings, lead oud and serpentine Arabian melodic work stem from the opposite half of the world.
Where Ashkelon was traditional mawal vocalizing with small-scale accompaniment and stylistic crossover excursions into Flamenco, L'Youm Dima includes just the right amount of Arab-Pop elements to feel contemporary while avoiding the empty destination of stamped-out hit factory machinations. Eschewing the Trance/Techno/Rap sensibilities of Natacha Atlas' shaabi music, Zrihan's L'Youm Dima resides somewhere between Natacha's more traditional Egyptian exploits and Amr Diab and signals a new but very serious presence in this category of popular Arabian music. Especially played back at higher levels, Emil's fearless power riffing in the upper registers is a marvel to behold and raises the little hackles in the back of the nape. Having purchased this album purely on the strength of the first, I wasn't merely not disappointed but thoroughly happy to see this wonderfully talented mockingbird spread his wings in new but equally masterfully executed directions. L'Youm Dima is a definitive must-have for your Middle-Eastern library section.