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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Absolute Arabian Nights

Michael Fowler Centre, Thursday 6th March

Since its inception in 1993, the Absolute Ensemble has stunned audiences world wide with its captivating fusion of Middle-Eastern traditional aesthetics, jazz, and orchestral arrangements. It was truly a privilege to see the famous 15-piece in action as part of this year’s arts festival.

The group began the evening’s music with a furious Eastern jazz piece, a surging rhythmic number that showcased the extensive capabilities of the percussionists. With a few lively horn solos dotted here and there, the group were definitely warmed up by the end.

They then swapped pace for mood, and treated us to a more sedate orchestral piece that still nodded to Eastern traditional tones (especially the haunting double-bass intro), but utilised more structured and full composition. The group’s soloists are amazing, producing refined, spirited individual visions that never meander too far from the core of the arrangements.

Things really took off upon the arrival to the stage of Lebanese legend Marcel Khalifé. Often referred to as ‘the Bob Dylan of the Middle East’, this enigmatic grey-haired man led the rest of the group for a handful of pieces, including some full versions of a few of his more well-known songs. The audience was truly moved by Khalifé’s soulful vocals and complex Oud performances. One woman seated behind me was crying audibly the entire time he was on stage, and several groups in the crowd led impassioned, if not off-key, sing-alongs.

The Absolute Ensemble, led by exuberant-conductor-turned-showmanextrovert Kristjan Järvi, was a delight to see and hear. Clocking in at over two hours, the night’s performance was an ambitious one, and no doubt would have tired some of the less ardent members of the crowd. However, by the end of the night the audience showed no signs of fatigue, and was left cheering for more of that strange, enthralling music.

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