Ahvak

Ahvak

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Although this is the debut recording from Israeli band Ahvak, the music is tight, complex, and mature -- not the sort of result normally associated with a fledgling band. But age (and experience) are relative, and the bandmembers had been working and rehearsing together for at least two years prior to this recording. No harm, either, that several of Ahvak's principal members are conservatory-trained composers and musicians, and that the drummer is expatriate American Dave Kerman, a veteran of art rock bands 5uu's, Motor Totemist Guild, and Thinking Plague. These diverse ingredients add up to a very nice piece of work, characterized in part by the dissonance and sledgehammer intensity of Zeuhl-style goth groups like Univers Zero or Present, but with legitimate art rock and even chamber music pretensions as well, and a musical scope and dexterity that are superior to more narrow-focused musical kin. Tricky polyrhythms and chromatic instability are the norm. Middle Eastern rhythms and motifs are sometimes evoked (but not excessively), and the group's use of dynamics is exemplary. The powerful throb of Ishay Sommer's bass and Kerman's drums and the distinctive howling of Yehuda Kotton's electric guitar are quite capable of bludgeoning the listener into submission, but Ahvak knows how to wield a scalpel also, and pieces like "Regaim" (essentially a duet between Udi Susser's flute and Roy Yarkoni's acoustic piano) have their own cultivated sense of quiet dis-ease. "Hamef Ahakim" opens with a jaunty (but slightly demented) organ and calliope sound, and after a rather austere middle section, breaks into a ragged waltz tempo, samples the sounds of children at a carnival (?), moves into a quiet but ominous interlude, and then builds to a climax in a fashion that is almost symphonic. It and the title piece (also the group name, which translates as "dust") are the longest and most complex of the seven selections, and they wander through nightmare dreamscapes that are alternately euphoric, portentous, violent, funereal, or just quietly twisted. Udi Koomran, on "computer," is in effect a sixth member of the group, and his subtle electronic embellishments add a welcome touch of mystery, adding to the music's slightly sinister edge. The music on this CD is hardly a romp, but it can be recommended unreservedly for its creativity, intelligence, and emotional conviction.

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