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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

Riad Abdel-Gawad

By Bruce Miller
Published February 19, 2008

El Tarab El Aseel

When a musician combines technical skill with the right amount of soul, tarab is what ensues—a state of ecstasy shared by both performer and listener. So it makes sense that violinist Riad Abdel-Gawad, who happens to own a Ph.D. from Harvard, would refer to this heightened state in the title of his CD. Western jazz and blues modes often connect naturally to the ancient Arabic styles of composition and improvisation, and Abdel- Gawad’s command of both worlds lends his music a taste of the ecstatic and the avant-garde. Backed by a classical Arab ensemble of oud, nay (flute), riqq (Arabic tambourine) and qanun (zither), he delivers four extended pieces that immediately conjure an Egyptian classical sound—due in no small part to his upbringing in Cairo, as well as the regional popularity of the legendary Syrian-born violinist-composer Sami Al-Shawwa, whom Abdel- Gawad claims as an indirect influence. El Tarab El Aseel is an album of sweeping drones, patient tempos and endless possibilities for a music whose evolution began long before the invention of the phonograph.