Kinan Azmeh: Uneven Sky

Kinan Azmeh / Manuel Nawri / Yo-Yo Ma

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Kinan Azmeh: Uneven Sky Review

by James Manheim

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh has crossed several identity boundaries in his career, it is not only that he is a Western-trained musician with a background in Syrian traditional music. He left Syria in 2000 to study at the Juilliard School in New York, and has found it difficult to return due to the country's deadly civil war. In New York, he has been active as a jazz player as well as in concert music. Moreover, he is both a performer and a composer. Most of these aspects of his background appear in one form or another on this satisfying double album release, where he performs with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Manuel Nawri. The first disc is devoted to Azmeh's own compositions, which go well beyond simply providing a vehicle for his own virtuosity. The three works all address different parts of his cultural makeup, but consider and sample the final work, The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea, where he gets a major assist from cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Azmeh has been a member of Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, and the work reflects the often extramusical associations of works performed by that group. The opening Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra draws on both jazz and Arabic influences. Traces of the Arab maqam system can also be heard in the Paroles-Suite for clarinet and orchestra of Dia Succari on the second disc, where music by Syrian composers younger than Azmeh can also be heard. The Clarinet Concerto of Kareem Roustom has Homer's Odyssey for a program, as suggested by its subtitle, Adrift on the Wine-Dark Sea. Azmeh is a wonderful player with an intense yet lively tone, and the entire project is recommended. May he perform this music in his home country one day.

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