album release show newton

Stinkweeds is working with The Newton (Changing Hands & First Draft Book Bar) on a series of live music events. This Friday, July 15th, we are thrilled to present Qais Essar and the Qosmonauts as they share the evening with you and fellow musicians to celebrate the release of Qais Essar’s newest album Tavern of Ruin. Qais was kind enough to send us an advanced copy of the album to listen to. In an attempt to dance about architecture, we decided to tackle the daunting task of reviewing this gem of textures and sounds that completely eludes classification or genre. We’re always up for a challenge. Give this a read, maybe sample a few tracks, and definitely make the effort to come out to the Newton this Friday for what is sure to be a memorable experience.

Click here for the facebook event page.

qais tavern

Qais Essar – Tavern of Ruin Review

Yesterday, without prompt and for no reason at all, I considered the old philosophical question of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A simple answer came to mind. A tree falling in the forest will create sound waves and everything in the path of those sound waves will react to them as nature has designed them to do so. So unless anything else in the path of those sound waves has been conditioned to “hear,” it will produce sound waves, but make no sound. But this brings about another question. If a tree falls in the forest and someone doesn’t know what a tree or a forest is, do they hear it? There are countless stories about people being introduced to new environments or experiences and lacking the ability to perceive them. We are conditioned to observe the world around us and because of this conditioning, we can miss things that are unfamiliar.

The music on Qais Essar’s newest album Tavern of Ruin is much like the tree falling in the forest. I am aware of the trees and the forest, and I am aware of the sound made when the trees fall. But since I haven’t spent much time around falling trees, there may be a lot that I am missing. I couldn’t tell you the type of tree or how big the tree is. I couldn’t say what direction it has fallen. Perhaps a logger, or even a squirrel would know such things, but for them, the sound is familiar and it is beneficial to know such things, so they are likely to hear what I cannot. All pseudo-philosophizing aside, Tavern of Ruin is a powerfully intriguing listen because of the possibility of what I am not yet conditioned to hear.

Qais Essar is a world renowned rabab player. The rabab is a stringed, fretted instrument that originated in Afghanistan. It is similar in construction and sound to the lute, and has a passing resemblance to many other stringed instruments made throughout time. However, it’s the style in which Essar plays the rabab that sets it worlds apart from other traditional instruments of the kind. To my untrained ear, I would assume that he follows many of the traditional techniques and approaches that may be conventional to this instrument. What is less clear to me is where all of these other influences fit in. I am not always clear about what falls under traditional or contemporary in reference to this music. Any use of any non-traditional ideas are so subtle as to only have a surface level of familiarity, but not so much as to be clearly defined as influenced by the music I am relating them to. This perfectly serves to take the listener out of the head space of categorization, leaving you to experience this as music, and music alone.

The compositions on Tavern of Ruin, while ranging from traditional to modern, skillfully uses dense chords and beautiful contrast of dissonance and resonance to keep your mind engaged. There is a transcendental nature to everything on this album. The dynamic will change from soft to loud, slow to fast, fluid to halting, but it never loses the ambient texture that holds it all together. The album opens with a sparse piece, with the rabab playing a mournfully jarring succession of tones, accompanied only by a quiet drone of acoustic sounds, produced either by the friction of a bow or the passing of air, pulsing a single note for the three minutes of music. The following track hints at what will be an album of sonic discovery and rich composition. I am reminded of 70s ECM label artists, many of whom explored the realm of American traditions of folk and jazz and whatever else they could get their hands on, with similarly knowledgeable composition and virtuosic instrumentation. There are a number of instruments on this album more common to jazz, pop, rock and American folk, but Tavern of Ruin is clearly a product of it’s own origins and traditions, yet is wholly a contemporary album with textures and ideas that relate to our modern world, and our modern world is becoming less exotic and unfamiliar, every day. Our world is small and open for discovery. The question is whether the unfamiliar will inspire this sense of discovery or frighten us to hide under our sheets. I know what it sounds like when trees fall, and I know not to fear the forest…but there is always so much more to learn to better perceive the world around us. I am writing a review for an album that I have yet to fully discover. Some albums take years to fully absorb. These are my favorite albums. My hope is that you will take that as motivation to make your own discoveries, rather than rely on a partially informed individual with a platform. I won’t be offended, I promise.