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Al Basim - Revival CD (album) cover


Al Basim


Eclectic Prog

3.95 | 9 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
4 stars Iraq is hardly the bastion of progressive rock or other experimental forms of music but then again, these days it's hardly the bastion of anything ever since a small group of psychopaths we call the government (you pick the country and it's true) decided to bomb the crap out of the nation and kill untold scores of innocent people and in the process destroyed one of the most ancient cradles of civilization and all for what? But i digress before i even begin. Let me start over. Iraq is hardly the bastion of progressive rock or other experimental forms of music and actually never has been so as it has always existed in a rather isolated section of the world steeped in ancient traditions while adhering to strict religious principles. Exotic experimental weirdness just never fit in but that doesn't mean there haven't been some freaks who were born within its borders and just wanted to adventure further.

AL BASIM was born and raised in Baghdad and in 1970 organized a teenage folk ensemble and learned how to play guitar in the style of his idol Ilham al-Madfi, one of Iraq's most successful pop rock musicians who even made a collaboration with Paul McCartney. While studying pedagogy, BASIM caught the bug to create music and left behind his career plans as well as his residency in his home country where there was no chance of nurturing his wildest musical ambitions. After immigrating to the US and ending up in Denver, Colorado, BASIM wasted no time and hooked up with the session musicians David Reskin (flute), John Starrett (bass), Phil Carter (drums) and George Keith (sax) and got busy recording this one and only album REVIVAL which was released in 1979 and has been a rare collectors item ever since but has found some new life in a few reissues.

REVIVAL is a unique sounding and all instrumental album that is primary based on progressive rock but includes a lot of BASIM's native Arabic sounds along with jazz-fusion and trippy even Krautish psychedelia. While many Western artists ranging from Agitation Free to Rahmann have tackled the Middle Eastern and progressive rock fusion from the European perspective, i can't think of one other example outside of AL BASIM who has delivered this equation from the opposite side of the coin. Despite the exotic nature of an Iraqi creating a fusion album, the lion's share of the sounds presented are dominated by Eurocentric perspectives but the Middle Eastern attributes do find their way into the Euro-jazz, rock frenzy and Krautrock psychedelia which makes a rather unprecedented series of instrumental workouts at least in my experience.

'History of the World' begins with a series of la-la-la's before the exotic sounds of Baghdad shine through with Middle Eastern scales adapted to the guitar. Clocking at over 12 minutes it is also the longest track and carefully ratchets up into a veritable East meets West fusion jam that is characterized by solid jazz drumming styles, tinny guitar licks and the most prevalent sound on this album, the hyper omnipresent fluttering of the flute which finds a way to weave its magic into all the five tracks despite how different they are from one another. The following 'Poitiers' stands in stark contrast to the percussion dominated intro track and focuses more on complex orchestral harmonies and counterpoints with minimal percussion and more esoteric flute runs, relaxed jazzy guitar (think Pat Metheny) and very little traces of rock at the beginning but finds the bass rebelling and creating a faster tempo thus dragging the rest of the band into fully fueled rock action.

'Souvenir' on the other hand focuses on BASIM's compositional skills and demonstrates his talent in classical chamber music, features absolutely no percussion and at this point sounds like a completely different album from the opener. Once again the flute is the dominant instrument as everything drifts along in dream mode. 'One Camel In Alaska' brings back the Middle Eastern sounds and although no Central Asian instruments are given credit i do believe there is a bouzouki in the mix however with this exotic Silk Road presence, the band is one fire with the heaviest rock sounds that the album has to offer with proggy guitar, bass and drum workouts that are in perfect prog harmony but once again the flute and its high pitched timbres pierce through the din and steal the show once again!

The final 'Open Space' shifts gears once again and tackles the unlikely marriage of Arab folklore and avant-garde free jazz-fusion and succeeds in being my favorite track on the album with its brash bass bop bravado, angular guitar chords and freeform percussive workouts. While a flute may sound out of place in a sizzling jazz marathon, somehow David Reskin's antsy flutterings find a place as he knows how to find the perfect counterpoints in between the cracks of the cacophonous roar. This is the only track that really emphasizes the use of the squawky sax talents of George Keith. Despite the free for all jazzy thing going on, the frenzy is punctuated by serene melodies that sort of develop and then drift into chaos and then form new ones. It comes across as a medley of ideas rather than a cohesive flow of sounds but then again so does the entire album! It all ends with the same la-la-la's which began the whole thing.

While no one could ever accuse AL BASIM of being focused as this album runs more courses in its short playing time than a golf tournament, i can't say that for once i'm bored and on the contrary impressed by the stealthy instrumental interplay that all the band members bring to the table. It's almost as if BASIM knew that this album would be his only chance and wanted to stuff in as many ideas as possible since the progressive world of rock and jazz-fusion's heyday had already passed by several years. This is definitely not an album that likes to repeat itself and the tracks seem quite random in fact but the real deal is that every one of them is quite exemplary in the performances at hand. Personally i would've have loved to see this lineup crank out a couple more albums but the overall sound is much more like albums from 1973-74 as it carried a strong connection to the 60s psychedelic scene while cranking out tight technical displays of jazz and prog. Perhaps a tad achronistic but given that these sonic jewels were likely residing in BASIM's noggin' for several years, they probably emerged in some nascent form during the aforementioned timeline. Whatever the case, this is some bitchin' cool stuff!

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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