Album Title: 21 Strings
Performer: Tarik & Julia Banzi, Charlie Bisharat
Label: Al Andalus Productions
Playing time: 60'

21 Strings. Here it is not the West-African kora harp but Tarik Banzi on oud, his wife Julia Banzi on flamenco guitar and ex Shadowfax Charlie Bisharat on violin. Tarik and Julia head the Al-Andalus Ensemble of Portland/Oregon, a formation that changes members depending on projects and performances but as the name indicates, is dedicated to the Spanish era of 711-1492 AD. Known as Al-Andalus, Muslims, Jews and Christians then lived together peacefully, their artists unwittingly helping birth the emergence of the European Renaissance. Charlie Bisharat is an in-demand session player. Amongst many others, he often collaborates with the famous guitar duo Strunz & Farah.

21 Strings revisits certain earlier themes from the group's Illumination, Vision, Alchemy and Genetic Memories albums. In a quasi unplugged makeover, they're reinvented here by the intuitive accord between three freely trading musicians who walk a meandering and introspective course alongside memorable melodies.

This is high-level contemporary chamber music of a visionary historical sort. It's an imaginary ethno style based on serious doctoral musicology research into a specific cultural epoch enhanced by intuitive affinity. It once again builds bridges between Arab and European modalities, particularly the Moorish ensconced in the famous Alhambra but having become less obvious in most modern-day Flamenco as the prevailing Spanish ethnic style.

Afghani tunes intertwine with Flamenco rhythms, oud maqams, Ladino melodies and Jazzy airs, most the latter compliments of Charlie Bisharat's sinuous violin.

Compared to the Tariks' earlier output, 21 Strings comes across as their most profound effort. By chance or timely maturing, this particular grouping most successfully distills the essence of their previous work into a scintillating fabric that connects East and West, past and present. If you haven't met them before, 21 Strings is the perfect intro. If you love oud, Tarik Banzi needs to be on your radar (two of his students formed the now famous group Radio Tarifa). If you enjoyed Bustan Abraham, Armen Chakmakian, Luís Delgado and Ara Dinkjian's Night Ark, 21 Strings has your name all over it in bright and bold letters...