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Inspiring, Hauntingly Relevant Music and Reportage from Palestine

Ramzi Aburedwan was the poster child for the first Palestinian intifada – literally. The photo of an eight-year-old Aburedwan hurling a rock at an Israeli tank remains an iconic regional and cultural image. But Aburedwan found music far mightier than the sword. Trained in France as a violist, he’s equally adept at the buzuq (the Levantine version of the Greek bouzouki). It wouldn’t be extreme to call him a younger counterpart to Simon Shaheen. Aburedwan’s 2012 album Reflections of Palestine ranked high on the best releases of the year list here. He’s also currently on a fascinating, characteristically relevant, cross-pollinating US tour, with his group the Dal’Ouna Ensemble. They’re making a stop at the Poisson Rouge tomorrow night, Sept 15 at 7 PM; cover is $25 for standing room, your best bet. Author Sandy Tolan joins the group on this tour, reading from his new book Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, a heartwarming look at Aburedwan’s adventures establishing music schools for children in his home country.

Arabic music can be hard to track down in English, and the Dal’Ouna Ensemble are no exception. Happily, Aburedwan has a youtube channel, and the group’s album Oyoun Al Kalam is streaming at Flipswitch. The music is dynamically shapeshifting, mysterious, often rather dark and consistently sublime.In the studio, Aburedwan draws on a rotating global cast of brilliant talent, including but not limited to oudists Ziad Ben Youssef and Dimitri Mikelis, the amazing Balkan accordionist Edwin Buger, percussionists Tareq Rantisi, Naif Serhan, Ibrahim Frokh and Yanal Staiti, bassists Nawras Alhajibrahim and Dimitri Mikelis and singers Oday Al Khatib and Nidal Ibourk. Another haunting Palestinian woman, Abeer Nehme takes over vocals for the group on the current tour.

The album is on the somber side: slow, slinky tempos, intricate interplay between the stringed instruments. Percussion and plaintive alto sax underpin pensive and dynamically nuanced vocals. It opens with a spare, stately dirge that the band then finally takes doublespeed at the end. There are tersely propulsive numbers like the second track, a bracing habibi theme.

Track three, Asfour (Bird) works a slow, brooding, majestically stately path in the same vein as the Trio Joubran. The group follows the wistful, atmospheric balladry of the fourth track with a more delicately shadowy variation on the theme, then a big, serpentine, edgily modal anthem. After the angst-fueled, wrenching Dzikrayat (Memories), the band swirls through a dance.with echoes of Turkish dervish music. The album winds up with a blithe take of a popular folk tune, a sepulchrally swaying, dusky terrain and then a sweeping, string-driven pastorale anthem. Improvisation is second nature to virtuoso Middle Eastern musicians, so you can expect them to raise the energy and jam out several of these numbers, with Tolan putting the music in the context of current history.