BEIRUT: Berlin-based jazz pianist Tarek Yamani will release his latest track, “King Matar,” next week. The piece is an homage to virtuoso Lebanese buzuq player Matar Muhammad.
Yamani has taken one of Muhammad’s signature riffs and created an improvised melody “engulfed by jazz chords” and driven by a pulsating electronic vibe. Psychedelically intense and occasionally frenetic, the track represents a significant departure for Yamani, who has previously explored the relationships between African-American jazz and Arabic rhythms and melodies.
“It’s like nothing I’ve put out before,” admits Yamani, who was born and raised in Beirut and taught himself jazz at the age of 19. “It’s very synth-heavy and is essentially an improvisation over a somewhat fixed groove that begins in G bayati (similar to a minor scale in Western music) and then goes all over the place.”
Filled with electro quarter-tonal vibes, the riff taken by Yamani was used by Muhammad to end improvisational segments. “Matar had this very distinct way of charging his improvisations and in general I’m drawn to intense, rhythmical and emotionally captivating patterns,” says Yamani. “I’m also drawn to virtuosity, and Matar can fit all that into one segment.
“The elements I wanted to include were traditional ways of approaching the maqam,” he continues. “So, navigating from one scale to another, which is very typical in any maqamic improvisation. For example, if you start with bayati you might start hinting at some hijaz and then some saba. But the main thing that interested me with this new sound I’m exploring was the harmonic (accompaniment). How to play in this way, but also to use chromatics, chords, arpeggios and modulations from the jazz vocabulary. And how to combine them in a way that sounds organic. It is this particular sonic effect that I’m interested in developing.”
The release is accompanied by a video directed by Ali Dalloul, whose series of quarantine films piqued the interest of Yamani. The video utilizes old footage taken by Yamani’s father and his own 8mm tapes. “To me, it’s both a music video and a track,” he says. “It’s as if the music was actually composed for the video and not the other way round. And I like that.”
The track will be available on YouTube and on all music platforms on 11 February.