Click to hear: “Enot Arbiv


Maybe these are the misleading signposts: Ravi Shankar (too old), “Within You and Without You” (now too old and too obscure), Paul Simon, Paul Winter, David Byrne, Robert Plant, Eddie Vedder and Nusrat duets, Hamza El Din, Paul Bowles writing the liner notes for Bill Laswell’s release of trance music from Marrakesh, Mohammed Reja Shajarian (too god-like)… they are endless. As I listened to the recent self-titled CD by Okbari, I wondered how they got there (er,here) – all of these invitations to the world just beyond commercial radio, just beyond our ears. Other music.

What is quite possibly the most impressive aspect of this record by the duo of Eric LaPerna and Amos Libby is that the way they got here, musically speaking, is invisible. Somehow, they think beyond the restrictions of Westerners playing non-Western music. They play this music from the inside out. 

Their approach is not circumscribed by some misguided Western ideal of synchronization, like so many Western performances of non-Western arts. Rather, Okbari’s music unfolds in a bit of a messy way, as it should. (That said, this is not slop, not the “Hey, kids, grab a drum!” hacky-sack style of playing.) This is the relaxed, formal music of a duo inspired by the relaxed-but-formal musical traditions of Turkey, Iran and the Indian sub-continent – perhaps one step removed from the source material, but not so you’d notice. 


Libby (center) and LaPerna performing, with belly dancer, at Blue. (photo/courtesy Okbari)
Libby (center) and LaPerna performing, with belly dancer, at Blue. (photo/courtesy Okbari)

These musical beacons are evident throughout the album, a collection of 13 tracks that are, if not directly traditional, then heavily referencing these traditions. The exceptions here are Okbari’s Art Ensemble of Chicago–like improvisations with small percussion instruments (“Moss and the Divinorum,” parts one through three). This is a great live bit, I’m sure, but the style only occasionally transcends the performance space. (Witness the once glorious AACM – Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians – recordings for great ideas gone afowl.)

In many classical traditions from Morroco to East Asia, there is a moment when the student steps beyond that status. They may still study for another 40 years, but the initial love for the music has become an understanding of the music. LaPerna and Libby are walking that path.

— Jim Pinfold

Okbari performs Fri., Aug. 4, at Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland, at 10 p.m. 774-4111.

Jim Pinfold buys music for Bull Moose Music and has a show on WMPG (Reasonable Music, heard Wednesdays from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.). He listens to a lot of The Drive-By Truckers and Persian classical, and he claims to have sat through one of the longest concerts imaginable in Chennai, India, and come out smiling.

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