Her Eyes Illuminate is the debut album from Haram, a ten piece power-house ensemble from the depths of Vancouver’s rich avant garde improvisational music community. The album will be released in August, 2012 on Songlines, just prior to the band’s first national Canadian tour.
Led by Gordon Grdina (Dan Mangan, Paul Motian, Gary Peacock), Haram was first formed in 2008 as a large ensemble vehicle to study and perform Arabic repertoire that Grdina had been performing in small groups. Though more publicly known for his guitar playing, he here exchanges it for the Iraqi oud.
The pieces on Her Eyes Illuminate are lovingly reinterpreted with an ensemble half studied in the tradition and half who cut their teeth in the improv-indie-rock-jazz scene. This blend of musicians is what gives Haram its unique sound. The songs are not simply recited, but paid reverence to amid the openness of improvisational ideologies.
Approaching Haram as a listener is a juxtaposing intention. Its traditional foundation feels familiar but avoids the kitsch of a simple homage band. The music developed over time and has reached that sublime state of effortless cohesion while retaining its sense of wild abandon. The repertoire starts with Iraqi folk music and ends at the mid-century era of Egyptian radio music in which Oum Khalsoum and Farid Al Atrash reigned.
The sheer size of the band aside, trying to collect this ambitious selection of players in the same place and time is a feat. On stage you’ll find drummer Kenton Loewen (Dan Mangan, The Crackling, Jerry Granelli), trumpeter JP Carter (The Inhabitants, Destroyer, Fond Of Tigers) and bassist Tommy Babin (Paul Plimley, Now Orchestra, Sendero Luminoso).
Violinist Jesse Zubot (Tanya Tagaq, Hawksley Workman, Fond Of Tigers) is a staple of Vancouver’s “free” music scene and is founder of the world-renowned Drip Audio label. Percussionists Tim Gerwing and Liam MacDonald have been performing the Arabic tradition with Iraqi Oud virtuoso Serwan Yamokly for years and Emad Armoush has been a professional Arabic singer since his youth. Composer, improviser and soloist Francois Houle has, in part, reinvented the way the clarinet is played in North America.
On Her Eyes Illuminate, these traditional pieces are blown wide open by the ensemble mixing elements of noise, electronic soundscape, and western free improv. There isn’t a band around that can conjure up the same sense of respect and homage while being explosively self-expressive. Haram is a powerhouse ensemble playing a repertoire that has been revered by millions over decades.