Benjamin Lew

Nebka

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A "nebka" is described in the booklet accompanying this unique release as a "dune formed by the wind around an obstacle in the desert." As on his past albums, much of the music here retains the character of a travelogue, particularly one devoted to roving Northern Africa. The short tracks are like evocative snapshots taken perhaps randomly but always with an eye attuned to local color while still deeply infused with a Western aesthetic. Lew is rarely overt in his borrowings from this or that culture; more often references to folk cultures exist as a heady tinge to his own brand of music which seems to have developed from such sources as Brian Eno and Erik Satie. For every dash of ambient style, there is an offsetting spice of a darker flavor or of a quirky, non-idiomatic minimalism. A piece like "Hommes Assis Devant un Mur Chaule" begins with what sounds like a Moroccan guimbri (a lute-like instrument) but is soon paired with whistling flute trills as if they were just blown into the area by a breeze across the Mediterranean. In "Preparation," with its insistent, rhythmically off-kilter theme, it's difficult not to conjure a small caravan of travelers wandering into a post-modern bazaar replete with found radio transmissions. Treading a path strewn with potential pitfalls, Lew manages to navigate far away from both "cultural imperialism" and new age trappings and produces an exceptional, one of a kind offering. Nebka is a superb, finely crafted, and, in the end, luxuriant album.

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