Rahim Alhaj

Little Earth

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Iraqi oud master Rahim Alhaj has made his home in the U.S. since 2000, but his eye is on the big picture, the entire globe -- his Little Earth. He certainly has the pulling power to draw in some big names, ranging from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck to guitarist Bill Frisell and accordionist Guy Klucevsek. In fact, his collaborators here are from all over the world, responding in their individual ways to his compositions. There's real beauty here, as with his collaboration with Cape Verdean singer Maria de Barros on "Missing You," a piece that takes her far from her comfort zone. Klucevsek is masterful, making his accordion sound Middle Eastern, while the kora/oud combination on "The Other Time" is simply a light dance that's delightful. But whether Alhaj is working with sitar, pipa, or his own small ensemble, the music is very rich here, an exploration of where people come together. There are far more points of contact than divergence, and the fact that the album closer features him playing with an Iranian ney player shows just how people can ignore borders placed on them by governments.

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