Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Karim Baggili / Osvaldo Hernandez - Musée des Instruments de Musique, 06/02/2007

Karim Baggili - g, oud (website | MySpace)
Osvaldo Hernandez Napoles - perc

I first heard Osvaldo Hernandez on the Apikon-Dia trio's weird and excellent album. If you have no idea of what maracas virtuosity might be, Hernandez can give you a few hints, as he did soon after I walked into the room, in the middle of the second song. His almost painterly arm and wrist movements produced a surprisingly wide range of rhythms and sounds.

I first encountered Karim Baggili on Nathalie Lorier's recent, East-meets-West L'arbre pleure. On that album, Baggili, who, as a Yougo-Jordanian established in Belgium, is a bit of a cultural crossroads all by himself, plays the Easterner, sticking to oud and Arabic themes. In this duo, though, he started with the Spanish side of his playing, on acoustic guitar. His songs applied classical or semi-classical technique (in the sense of playing bass lines, accompaniment and melody at the same time), rich harmony and well-paced and -textured arrangements to folk-ish material, thus balancing lyricism with rhythmic drive, light-footed and complex harmony with soulful flamenco chords. More subdued material, such as the romantic "Luna," avoided sappiness by keeping some ardent passion bubbling just beneath the surface.

For a beautiful rendition of the well-known "La Llorona," Baggili and Hernandez sang together. Short guitar solos separated the verses, extending the waltz's tragic-romance suspense. Lyrics such as "yo soy como el chilo verde, llorona/picante pero sabroso" are common in Cuban songs, for example, but I wondered what they could mean in this sadder context (there were more poetic lyrics, too, about crying flowers, but I can't find a version of the song with them online and don't want to butcher the line) and thought of Dave Douglas's comments on cultural context. Of course, my poor Spanish doesn't help matters, but the meanings of stock phrases such as that one seems as deeply embedded as those in the blues or hip hop, not really accessible to outsiders.

The Middle-Eastern side of Baggili's equation was addressed on the two pieces that followed. First came a dance-based oud-derbouka tune. Hernandez then used the tabla/udu drum hybrid pictured above to create a less domineering sound and more open setting for a looser set of improvisations, connected by a few pre-set themes, one of which I recognised from L'arbre pleure. They segued from happy-go-lucky line-spinning to phrases that seemed profound and yearning, even when Baggili's plucking was fast and insistent. When Hernandez took a tambourine solo, he reminded us once again of how these tunes were all about their rhythmic phrasing and accents.