If there’s a single instrument that typifies the music of the Middle East, it’s the qanun, in all its shimmering, microtonal glory. For centuries, this plucked zither has been at the heart of the Arabic ensemble, and now it’s the vehicle by which virtuoso player Abdullah Chhadeh makes his début album. Seven Gates is nothing less than an evocation of Chhadeh’s childhood home of Damascus, and its success lies in the combination of Chhadeh’s intensely felt music and its openness to nuances and sounds from farther afield.
This will be no surprise to anyone who has been entranced by Chhadeh’s work with composer Jocelyn Pook or singers Natacha Atlas and Sinead O’Connor. Although classically trained, Chhadeh has long been interested in fusing different traditions, and this is exemplified in the Nara quartet. Bernard O’Neill’s understated bass and Simon Webster’s percussion gives Seven Gates a solid foundation for qanun and accordion – from Bashir Abdul Al and Mazin Abu Sayf – to build upon. The album is organized around seven babs (gates) which function as points for Chhadeh to introduce and reprise his music’s themes. Travelling between the gates there is much movement. ‘Asaf’, the journey between ‘Bab Al Saghir’ and ‘Bab Al Faraj’ seems sedate, until its pace is upped to a destination where space and contemplation rule. Seven Gates’ triumph is in its breadth of imagination and trust in its distinct sound world.