Enja ENJ94942

Songs for Sad Women is the 18th album already by Rabih Abou-Khalil, the Beirut-born oud player. On this recording, he is joined by his steady crew of Michel Godard on serpent and Jarrod Cagwin on percussion. Extra spice is added by Gevorg Dabaghyan on duduk, the Armenian oboe. Songs for Sad Women could easily be mistaken for an early Hadouk Trio recording with its prominent use of the duduk. It has the same lyricism and haunting intenseness though it is also different. It is different in that it does not lean as much on a beat and is not as "trippy". Abou-Khalil sure can take you away from your everyday life however and carry you mentally to the ruins of post-war Lebanon with his melancholic airs. On the other hand, musical textures are far more intricately woven. Multiple layers of rhythm and melody spread over a full scale of emotion and beg for more meditative listening. All songs are intended to praise the strength of the women of Abou-Khalil's homeland that had to endure all that man will do to man in a war and still kept going on, sad but unbroken.

Instruments used here are able to voice that merely ethereally captivating detail that keeps you concentrated while listening. Rabih's oud has a wonderful sound here. It seems to be more mature than on his previous recording, more open. Used as a bass instrument, the serpent is a medieval undulated form of tuba which here has a surprising effect in harmonious richness. Jarrod Cagwin's array of percussive instruments gives rise to elaborate rhythms and transient details. In the hands of a real master, the duduk is an instrument that comes very close to the human voice and though wordless, speaks of many wonders.

Technically the recording is mastered to conform to today's doctrine, i.e. full throttle max to 0dB. While this limits the dynamic range to a disappointing 12dB, there is no clipping. The question remains why such a specialty label like Enja for a purely acoustic recording followed this compressed doctrine. Nevertheless, Songs for Sad Women is well worth listening to.