In which three friends come together in one of the oldest parts of Damascus, and play – to the city, to its fantasies, to its metaphorical position as a place between East and West. At just over 20 minutes, Road to Damascus is an album that sketches a musical picture so bold that it deserves to be heard as widely as possible.
The trio who have come together as Syriana bring with them a diverse range of experience. Abdullah Chhadeh, maestro of the zither-like qanun, is a Damascene whose 2005 album Seven Gates won praise for its mix of virtuosity and invention; Nick Page has already, as the guitarist of Transglobal Underground and Dub Colossus, been heard doing his own crossover styles; while double-bassist Bernard O'Neill, a long-term collaborator with Chhadeh, has seen action on many projects coming out of Real World. In terms of musical texture, Road to Damascus combines the qanun’s skittering, metallic microtones with unobtrusive, rhythmical bass and the lurching leaps of Middle Eastern string sections. But what really pulls you in are the sultry vocals of Lubana al Quntar on ‘Gharibb’ (Stranger), or the ripples of sound – surf qanun? – that trill through the second track ‘Syriana’. And if the tremeloed string work calls to mind the wilder excesses of US veteran guitarist Dick Dale, it’s meant to.