Modal music. To a jazz enthusiast, this term refers to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson, and other masters of post-bop improvisation. But modal (or scalar) playing was around long before jazz, which probably started with Buddy Bolden in the 1890s before blossoming in the 20th century. Modal playing has been part of world music for centuries, and the modal family is quite vast: Arabic, Jewish, Greek, North African, Indian, Turkish, Persian/Iranian, and Armenian. So when someone describes Simsim as modal world music, that's actually a somewhat vague statement. What Germany's Ensemble FisFüz does on this mostly instrumental CD (which was recorded in 2000 and released in the United States in 2003) is best described as modal-oriented world fusion; during the course of the album, this risk-taking quartet draws on a variety of modal influences: Arabic, Greek, Jewish (including klezmer), and Turkish, as well as Bulgarian and Baltic. Simsim contains its share of original material, although FisFüz also provides arrangements of traditional songs from Greece ("Aneva Sto Trapezi Mou"), Turkey ("Kiziroglu Mustafa"), and North Africa ("Tokar"). And much to its credit, FisFüz gives the album a certain continuity. You never know whether Simsim will move in a Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, North African, or East European direction, but you can safely assume that the modal factor will always be present -- and you know that clarinetist Annette Maye, drummer/percussionist Murat Coskun, cellist/bassist Wolfgang Maye, and oud player Karim Othman-Hassan will have no problem understanding the parallels between all of these different styles. Anyone who appreciates a variety of modal world music will find Simsim to be thoroughly rewarding.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson