Ayatollah Dollar, Baghdad, Jebel Tariq & Sufiq

The following appeared in the &etc newsletter.

New Muslimgauze material is always a pleasure in many ways - approaching the music to see which of his many styles Bryn Jones has used this time, enjoying the beautiful presentation that his labels so willingly provide, and the knowledge that despite his passing the music continues to emerge and provide pleasure. While few of us knew him, there are many in whom a small spark of his consciousness burns. And here are three new releases from Staalplaat's Muslimgauze subscriptions/limited edition series providing more fuel.

'Baghdad' has been long awaited (and changed its name a few times in the interim) - the final straw was the cloth cover planned. As it is, this 1998 recording comes in a simple digipak, made enticing by some subtle silver printing of an elephant and crescent moon on the cover and calligraphy under the clear tray. And it is the largest Muslimlim release at 2000 (which I for one think puts it into the category of a general release) - the quality and variety of the music explains Staalplaat's confidence.

The album contains some of those Muslimgauze tracks which through their 'difference' or skill pull an album out from the now large pack. 'Baghdad' takes typically lovely beat (bass, drums, beeploops) and spoken samples, accompanied by flute, and adds bleeping crackly modem like electronic shimmers - a great opening. Following the long languid 'Iqbal Singh will tattoo you' with its complex tabla, female vocalist and rubbery bass, 'Gopi juggle' is another wonder. A rapid drum pattern, a scratchyclick loop deep in the mix, some twittering birds (which were on 'Iqbal' but less prominent) and the beautiful descending harp/zither as lead instrument, joined later in the track by brief comments from the hand drum - a killer track.

The simple, restrained sound of 'Algeciras' is beguiling - a beat loop with some sliding strings behind is very elegant - occasional processed crowd noises are quite mysterious. 'Morphina gobi' revisits the birds from 'Gopi', twittering away together with a high metallic loop behind the hand drum and eastern singer - and the peacock makes a late appearance during the extended fade.

'An Abyssinian who could kiss Fidel' shifts the album into a dubby mood which takes over the second half. There is a strong bass, drums and vocal snatches which are looped and phased over a simple boopboop electro rhythm, creating a driving piece (which I am sure is a remix of another Muslimgauze - I recognise the vocal). The rhythm loop in 'Sudanezz rubber woman' has a mesmeric almost industrial feel; created from various humming loops it is interrupted by distorted gunshots from other loops, some grabs of guitar and snippets of vocal, and achieves a static perpetual motion - then ends.

Slow, relaxed and moody rhythms run 'Negative of Ethiopia', toasting adding to the chilled mood. Slightly faster, 'Zion under Izlamic law' features a dub-rubbery bass playing over vinyl scratches, a vocal fragment which keeps bubbling up, echoed organ and guitar chords and an elongated and loose outro. A mood broken by the wild vocal loops of "ummbar party" which lead the reggae of 'Ceylon dabbar' but continued in the sinuous bass and organ, smooth drum loop and finely tuned echo-effects.

This is a Muslimgauze for the collector and the aficionado - it has a diversity of pace, styles and innovations which will intrigue and please both, demonstrating how far Bryn Jones could take his self-imposed restraint. Highly recommended.

Sonically related to 'Baghdad', 'Ayatollah Dollar' is one of Staalplaat's new style AB-CDs, a full 5" disk, silvered in part, but with a coloured outer rim (see Kozo Inada last issue, or Goem below). This one is green, in a green engraved case, silk-screened calligraphy on the disk and a textured transparent sheet under the tray (some also include an Iranian coin). And it is only available to subscribers to the Muslimlim series - most other releases are available to the general public, for varying times depending on the pressing. 'Tikrit' extends the crackling sqirrly computer sounds heard in the full album, and places them over a jaunty reggae piece - simple guitar, bass and drum rhythms with wild tortured electronic equipment coming and going over the surface. Some sound like badly tuned radios, others are the modem-noises, yet more like star wars
armaments. Woven between them are some voices coming through the radio and simple flutes. All the while the band plays on. A strange juxtaposition.

The second track 'Fersitta and huma' uses a rapid dipdip pulse and vinyl crackle to create the base and lays over it some gentle percussion, shimmering birds (from 'Baghdad') and simple backwards and normal plucked strings phased over. A gentle prelude to the title track which is full on - a horn blasts signals the entry of rapid percussion, phaser synths, short string melodies, voices deep in the mix and occasional tingling synths and a flute. A dramatic and exciting piece.

Followed by another change of pace - 'Mezzin zahawi' is a languid excursion - based around simple dubbed piano and drums (it could almost be 'Don't worry, be happy'), vinyl crackles and a strong bass surrounded by a wild variety of spacey synth squirrels - it meanders happily through its nine minutes, sometimes stripping back to just the bass and crackle. And 'Heroin smuggler' brings a close with a rapid tabla line, slow bass, echoing organ chords and more synth embellishments. All together an interesting disk, nicely presented, and worth becoming a subscriber for.

Ever on the forefront of media for release, 'Jebel Tariq' is Muslimgauze's third MP3 web-only album (the 'Melt' EP and 'Fedayeen' disc precede it), and is therefore available for free, including artwork (subtle, sepia picture of a Mujahadeen sitting on a bunk in front of a lake, and a crow flying over barbed wire), from Muslimgauze the messenger (listed above - go to the discography). The first version to hit the net was distorted somehow in production - in a nice way! It was a very harsh Muslimgauze, but intense and quite listenable. The new version is much clearer, with a clean sound based around a strong tabla beat, making it quite a 'world music' album, balanced between the ambient and beated sides of Muslimgauze.

The long opening track 'Derbuka Arghul' lays the ground plan for the whole album - some voices talking near the start, and they will continue throughout, usually submerged but occasionally becoming more obvious; a tabla sets up a rapid, sensuous beat; overlaid is a blowy flute, harsher than heard in the remainder of the album, phasing and shifting around. The tabla and bass components are the strong elements, although there is a 'vocal' break near the middle where the subsumed voices become more prominent. As the album progresses we meet variations on this theme: 'Abu Zeid' includes some shaker percussion and singing, and has more space in the second half which is a looser jam; a pulsing drone underlies 'Fall of Granada' which could be a modulation of the strings which appear later; lots of voices, flute and strings throughout 'Maghribi hamza' which is a long languid piece, with some strange phased intrusions in the background adding an equivocal air.

We could be getting used to it, but 'Orange camel sherbert' has the same components but somehow its seems more restrained and gentler: the tabla plays some hard-hit variations and the string bass is strong. Then 'Agadir' which is very fast paced, with an even stronger bass-line and a recurring guitar motif, and production breakdowns near the end - little hiccups. 'Maghribimaz' opens with some talking, which again underlies much of the piece. Tabla and bass enter, and a flute - and there is a crackling suspicion of birds at times. The track has a lovely long outro with a scratchy voice, tabla flute combination which is simple and unadorned. The final, title track is quite different - it opens with hypnotic rhythms, created from a voice loop, ticking shakers and strings, with a voice singing underneath, all of which are maintained throughout the piece.

This is a dramatic and exciting release, based around the mesmeric Muslimgauze where beats and moods are maintained over extended tracks, and while it is not as broad in its range as some others, is full-strength - not a substandard net freebie.

Also around at the moment is 'Sufiq', an EP via Soleilmoon which is something of a memorial - released on the first anniversary of Bryn's death (but recorded in 1997), it pushes Soleilmoon into its second century at the turning of the millennium (SOL2CD was 'Coup d'état/Abu Nidal' a selection from 2 Muslimgauze Soleilmoon tapes). Reflecting the occasion, the cover is simple white card with hand-written details - presumably Bryn's.

And this is a very concentrated Muslimgauze hit - 9 tracks in 25 minutes. The very sweet 'Turkish sword swallower' provides a mellow introduction - a simple conjugation of tabla, bass and shakers with a melancholy, breathy flute. Then with a title almost as long as the track, 'How Rustem, the thief, moves through fire' increases the pace of hand drum and spool-like percussion and an exciting (almost clichéd) horn sample playing middle eastern motifs, and alternating between solo bass and ensemble at the end. Slow again for 'Morocco leather veil' with an uncertain flute with a lightly distorting bass hovering over the surface. The Middle Eastern orchestra returns with some very dramatic, filmic textures to 'The girl who sleeps with Persian tulips'. The sample are familiar, but I can't place them (Dudley/Coleman 'Songs from the Victorious City' comes to mind), and are accompanied by a plucked string melody and some synth blurts.

'Egyptian sand sifter' is a fast percussive piece (tabla, bass drum, shakers) overlaid with distorted flute. A more drum-machine like rhythm supports the flowing flute in 'Jackal the invisible', which loosens up in the middle section, to end in a brief aggressive burst. Shifting mode again, 'Daughter without tongue' has machine-like sampled rhythms with short metallic loops that a slightly modulated and then fade. Looping continues in 'Saracenic lacquer', a brief sketch for electronic and hand drum samples, set in train and left to run. And with 'Last mosque of Herzegovina' we return to the tabla and shaker arena, with more string samples, a voice-looped in the mix and a low buzzing synth melody.

This is a very heady short trip across allot of stylistic ground - I particularly like the dramatic string and horn samples whose placement and looping takes them beyond cliché and into the 'Gauze. A fitting tribute from Soleilmoon.

review by Jeremy Keens
Originally appeared in &etc 2.9.
Reproduced by permission.

see also Ayatollah Dollar, Baghdad, Jebel Tariq, Sufiq & Baghdad & Sufiq

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Ayatollah Dollar Baghdad Baghdad (digital re-issue) Jebel Tariq Jebel Tariq (promo) Jebel Tariq (re-issue) Sufiq

January 9, 2017