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Gene Coleman & Raed Yassin - The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi

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Artist: Gene Coleman & Raed Yassin

Album: The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi

Label: Al Maslakh

Review date: Apr. 17, 2007

As the theory goes, the world is currently engaged in a Clash of Civilizations, with culture and identity conflicts defining how different societies interact with each other, this interaction often ending in conflict. This theory has of course faced severe criticism and revision, but its echo lingers in the everyday media, as the supposed divide between the West and the Muslim world rears its head near daily.

It’s a shame then that dialogues such as the ones documented on Mazen Kerbaj’s Al Maslakh label don’t seem to garner much attention, predicated as they are on commonality rather than difference. The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi is one of those dialogues, with the American Gene Coleman on bass clarinet and the Lebanese Raed Yassin on double bass. The title of the album and the controlling theme of the titles allude (perhaps ironically) to a shared culture, ‘Nabil Fawzi’ being the Arabic name of Superman.

Both Coleman and Yassin are artistic multi-taskers, giving lie not only to the separation of cultures but to the separation of the arts. The globe-trotting Coleman deals in filmmaking and painting as well as composing and improvising, while Yassin works in video and performance art in addition to his music. On the five “episodes” presented here, the pair engages in visceral, acoustic-based spontaneous composition using what has become a true musical lingua franca, free improvisation.

The episodes mostly hover around the 10-minute mark, so Rassin and Coleman get ample room to display their split-second communication and ability to build up meaningful wholes. Like other members of the Al Maslakh roster, the pair let their ideas breathe, develop and change. The original template for free bass clarinet-double bass duos is the classic vocalese that Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy worked up in Mingus’ “What Love?” but Yassin and Coleman expand that template to include whole-instrument explorations, moving between jittery moments of call-and-response to dense layers of texture. For long passages of “Damn You Salah!” Coleman slurs and hisses with Yassin punctuating with woody thumps and percussive string strikes. The opening of “A Funny Day in Moore” pits Yassin’s extended bowing and buzzing against Coleman’s reedy tones, making for an unstable, slightly aggressive mixture in the way the sounds rub against each other, the instability foreshadowing the eruptions of violent exchange that follow.

Unfortunately, musical dialogue does not make for a global utopia, and tracking social movements through music – much less instrumental, improvised music – is bound to end up in, at best, over-generalizations, and at worst, untruths. For their part, Coleman and Yassin aren’t proposing any utopia, or any solutions for that matter. Their prime concern is crafting improvisations packed with tension, sparks of beauty and plenty of interaction. But there is something exciting in hearing (and seeing – the cardboard slipcase displays Arabic and English side-by-side) free improvisation step down out of its abstractions, get dirty in the grime of current events and remind us of how important of a model it can be for social interaction.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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