Absolute Ensemble: Absolute Arabian Nights
Thu Apr 5 2007
One motivation behind Absolute Ensemble head Kristjan Jrvi’s mission was clear the moment the Estonian-American formed his new-music big band in 1993: stake out territory that his father and older brother—award-winning conductors Neeme and Paavo, respectively—hadn’t yet explored. He’s done that and then some, by cultivating a rockist persona sans the rock moves. (Unless you count Absolute’s violin-driven version of “Purple Haze,” or their kill-your-idols bassoon feature “Dead Elvis.”) It’s hard to imagine buttoned-down maestros staging a 9/11 memorial like the one Jrvi mounted in a Bremen, Germany, airport hangar three years ago, replete with a score that made his miniorchestra sound as if it had a Middle Eastern pedigree.
“Absolute Arabian Nights” is the Bremen concept taken on the road. The suite, a collaboration with Swiss reedist Daniel Schnyder, seems more jazz-based than much of Jrvi’s work, even though Absolute has done enough genre-crashing at this point to be unfazed by anything thrown at it. The piece’s globalism is supplied by augmented percussion and oud virtuosi Marcel Khalife and Dhafer Youssef. It’s tempting to think of it as a clash of East and West, but Jrvi is well aware that in the Middle East, ancient music shares components with Western classicism. It’s more symphonic than it is rocking. — K. Leander Williams