Network, 2003

label website
Christian Scholze's German Network label is one of the unsung audiophile-quality recording heroes in the WorldMusic scene. Every one of their albums is about as masterfully - er, mastered as one could hope for, bringing to mind JVC's lavish xrcds or Dorian's x-process studio work. Mark my word - this label is a hidden buccaneer's cove filled with treasure.

Today's Oriental Voyage by multi-instrumentalist Abaji, he of the Syrian/Turkish/Armenian/Greek roots and unruly hair, is no exception. It introduces us to the world of Middle-Eastern Blues, and the enormous variety of timbres that can be coaxed from ancient, rebuilt stringed instruments like the bowed guitar, bouzouq, double-necked harp guitar, guitar-sitar-harp-tamboura, all of them flavored with song, harmonica, clarinet, ancient flute relatives and occasional hand drums.

Made acquaintances with Thierry 'Titi' Robin's mysterious solo oud/bouzouq meditations on women, Le regard nu [Silex/ Auvidis Y225059, 1996]? You've got a perfect precedent. Familiar with Stefan Micus? There's another vibrational parallel although Abaji only barely relies on multi-tracking and thus subscribes to a leaner flavor of minimalism.

The glory of Oriental Voyage is the tonal palette exploited by variably playing a guitar's neck or body con arco or with a slide; using sympathetic strings to create sitar or plucked harp echoes; reviving instruments to begin with that their original owners had discarded centuries ago to render them decorator's curiosities in restaurants, only to be transplanted into Abaji's Parisian luthier's lab for complete refurbishing.

Imagine then the languorous world of dimly-lit Hashish lounges, with flotsam of communication drifting lazily on the ethers of your viscous consciousness.

Or, as suggested by the album cover, sitting with a few friends in the wide-open, overlooking a sunset, with a few choice comments enriched, completed and fulfilled by the density of surrounding beauty and silence instilling meaning and context. That kind of expansive minimalism is at the heart of Oriental Voyage. It's the perfect vehicle to imbibe some virtual hashish, slow down the passage of time and enter into the twilight domain cracks between the dimensions of waking and dream.

Did I mention first-rate production values? Were it not for the very non-audiophile subject matter, it'd qualify as a first-rate demo CD. Which it still does if, like me, you dig this kind of uncomplicated, non-virtuoso, back-to-basics playfulness that's not so dissimilar from a Delta Bluesman on his back porch playing for the frogs and tumble weeds; just one guy communicating with the universe, gruff voice accompanied by silvery fingers and the rhythmic noises of a creaking rocking chair and boot heels. 'cept this porch overlooks the Bosporus, and the frogs are cicadas.