Wahid plays with history, measures, time in ‘Inside Silence’
“The title track, this piece was conceived of one morning with the idea of giving equal emphasis to the silence between the notes, as well as to the melody itself.” –Dimitris Mahlis, Wahid “Inside Silence”
Not many musical artists write songs inspired by the Achaemenid Empire’s bloody history and subsequent burning of Persepolis by Alexander, the Great. Or investigate Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis’s (Zorba the Greek, Serpico) arrest and torture in the 1940s during civil war in that country — through soundscape.
Wahid does. Made up of experienced L.A.-based musicians, composers, and music teachers, Dimitris Mahlis (oud) and Chris Wabich (frame drums), Wahid explores its melodies through hypnotic melismatics, judicious use of space in sound and jazz contexts, while spinning ancient rhythms through spare contemporized circles.
They include mood music — experimenting with 7/8th times, 9-beat cycles, and floating melodies, all with reconfigurations of two ancient instruments (the oud and frame drums) — typically associated with the New Age spiritual movement, but they also bring forth interpretive pieces inspired by Middle Eastern history, famous figures, and culture.
Inside Silence is the latest recording of mostly original interpretations to come from the East-meets-West Wahid duo, and officially released on January 25, 2011. Most of the music is traditionally rich and full with subtle jazz notes, and true to the history and melody of ancient civilizations. Amazing, considering it’s just two guys playing the oud and frame drums with zero studio trickery and an ear toward authenticity of sound as played.
Behind the scenes, the frame drums took over bass function, as well as percussively, thanks to a four-inch oversized set-up by Wabich. This set-up — besides opening up options for strictly percussion, bass, or a full rhythm section of sound — also enabled Wabich to accommodate what was happening with the oud.
Together, Wahid’s duo wanted to work with space, time, and sound within silence, produce a full band rhythm with two ancient instruments, and build on ancient rhythm with jazz concepts of melodic runs, harmonic convergence, and interpretive values. Mostly, they’ve succeeded — provided you do something for them.
The CD’s title tells you to stop, calm down, and be a true listener for subtle, spare innuendo behind deceptively simple, soothing, repetitious refrain. For the lay person unused to world music and jazz juxtapositions, listening can get a little monotonous with very little obvious movements to the tunes. Like dozing off in an ashram, or meditating at a Sedona spa to laidback background music.
You have to listen very carefully and patiently for the rewards, which come in small, quiet doses. “Alexander’s Regrets” — inspired by Mahlis’s imagining what it would sound like if Alexander, the Great expressed regret in burning down Persepolis — gets immediately to the point with a strong point of view in the decidedly Middle Eastern oud, as amplified by the frame drums. Here, memorable, dramatic melody doesn’t drone on in an endless series of uninteresting meanderings, but is constantly undulating, popping with reactive riffs and runs from fingers on a string flowing in waves and giving off ethereal ease and at times sexual tension.
“Alexander’s Regrets” flows seamless into the North-African-esque “Madzub,” a melodically catchy song (about a crazy but holy man) from its dungeonous opening sequence, reminding me a little of SuperMario World’s video game background music from the underground tunnel segment. The percussion displays itself in fast-paced rhythmic, yet dynamically punctuating knots, kicks, and skips, breaking up what could’ve easily reverted to the uniformity and lack of variation in most of the other pieces (“Sunlight,” “Airlift,” “The Outcast”).
Wahid’s Inside Silence plays out more New Age and world music, than jazz. But its strict disciplines (going against the usual 21st century chaotic dance pop action) force you to really listen to what’s going in between the scales, sound translations and silence.