Kristjan Järvi’s Absolute Ensemble announces the release of its latest album, Arabian Nights: Live at Town Hall NYC, on Enja Records. The album will be released on August 10 in the US. A sonic journey through Middle Eastern sounds and spirits, Arabian Nights includes music written specifically for Absolute Ensemble by Marcel Khalifé, Dhafer Youssef, and Daniel Schnyder. The program was conceived by Järvi and Schnyder, and recorded live at Town Hall in New York on April 7, 2007, presented by Town Hall as part of its 2007 Not Just Jazz Series. The album was produced by Järvi and engineered by Holger Schwark.
Absolute Arabian Nights was conceived as a post-September 11 memorial concert, and the first performance took place in an airport hangar in Bremen, Germany, presented by Musikfest Bremen. The Absolute Ensemble sought to crash musical genres with the Middle East during one of the most contentious periods in recent political history. The ensemble joined forces with UNESCO Artist for Peace Marcel Khalifé, plus soloists Bassam Saba, Dhafer Youssef and Daniel Schnyder to develop an honest, apolitical statement of peace and unity in the music world.
The process of creating this new project was long and sometimes agonizing – far from a simple East-meets-West love story out of Hollywood. Balancing the mix of Western and Eastern instruments created many challenges – Arab instruments do not play a chromatic scale and use a different tuning system than Western instruments. The composers involved also come from very different backgrounds both in terms of nationality and training.
In addition, the rehearsals were a puzzling mix of Arabic, French and English. Absolute Ensemble flutist Hayley Melitta Reid describes the situation, “At one point it became clear that there were no words left to communicate. The only way was through the music. And so there was singing, and clapping, and foot stamping and even shouting. And then there was compromise. What could be a better political statement than that? To many people, the word compromise has a kind of stigma – an irritation that something was lost rather than gained. This couldn’t be less true. Only when we gave up what we had held onto for so long, were we able to find peace and eventually great music.”
Recorded live at historic Town Hall in New York, this concert brought the Absolute Ensemble back to the city where it was founded, and back to the site of the September 11 tragedy. It symbolizes Absolute Ensemble’s commitment to changing music, and breaking down the borders that exist not only between cultures but among musicians.