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29 mai 2008

Soundcheck: Feed Your Head

From the first track, listening to Mawwal's this is all there is, there is no other place is like absorbing some bizarre hallucinogenic compound through your armpits in a Waziristan sweat lodge. Drawing heavily on traditional Middle Eastern/South Asian music and academic icons like Joe Zawinul and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the contemporary arrangement of these rooted-in-tradition pieces is, well, seriously cool.

Stringed-instrumentalist/vocalist and Mawwal mastermind Jim Matus has gathered a band of musically-possessed individuals that includes deep, entrancing subsonic fretless bassist Joe O'Brien, semi-tone vocalist Jill O'Brien and violinist Rohan Gregory. Percussion is provided (in the form of drums, tablas, djembes, dumbeks and many other instruments) by a host of schooled professionals and world travelers including Harshal Tole, Mike Keyes, Shane Shanahan and the ever-present Tony Vacca.

Mawwal's old/new fusion has overtones of Peter Gabriel's or Paul Simon's mining of African and South American musical paradigms, though it seems to incorporate mostly Pakistani and Afghani influences. There are elements of aboriginal chant as well; though there is nary a didgeridoo on the record, there are droning, Tuvan throat-singing vocals that simulate the trance-like qualities of that instrument.

It is music that breathes, and quite palpably, like the walls of my dorm room did one day many years ago, in an isolated Vermont boarding school. The whole seems heavily influenced by the psychedelic, in the intense, spiritual sense of the term. This is evidenced not only by the CD's cover art—photos of freak rock formations called "fairy chimneys," from the Cappadocia region of Turkey—but also by their quoting Terrence McKenna on the CD's insert. McKenna theorized worlds that were all but imperceptible without the aid of psychedelics, and had some pretty smart stuff to say about it all: "Right here and now, one quanta away, there is a raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman and hyperdimensional. The true situation in which we are embedded is an organism, an organization of active intelligence on a galactic scale."

Mawwal have certainly captured this vibe, and if it's one you like to connect to, you'll dig the hell out of these folks. Catch their release party June 1 at the Iron Horse at 7 p.m.

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