Sir Richard Bishop – The Freak of Araby

January 01, 1970

(Drag
City)

 

www.dragcity.com

 

It might not seem like such a good time to explore Arab
culture these days, what with militant fundamentalists bearing down on nuclear Pakistan, Iraq
in ruins, Iran
resurgent and threatening, and most people afraid to board a plane with a
Middle Easterner, let alone dig into the subtleties of traditional Arab guitar
styles. Yet this is exactly what Sun City Girl – and acoustic guitarist extraordinaire
– Richard Bishop has done in his ninth solo full-length, inspired particularly
by the long-dead Omar Khorshid, whose career in popularizing (and adapting for
guitar) the folk melodies of Egypt
was cut short in 1981 by a tragic automobile accident. Indeed, this wonderful
disc begins with “Taqasim for Omar”, with “taqasim” being a highly disciplined
form of modal variations on a theme, and “Omar” being the legendary guitar
player.

 

Bishop is, as always, a very impressive guitar player, with
a rounded, warm sound on the sustained notes and lightning speed on the quick
ones. With “Solzenara”, he stretched out the tones into an almost surf-like
swagger; in “Kaddak El Mayass”, a couple of songs later, his guitar jangles and
gambols atop a bare-back rhythm of drums. Throughout Bishop plays here with a
palpable sense of brio, as if enjoying the change of musical scenery and the
company of fellow musicians. And that is another thing that makes Freak of Araby interesting: Bishop has
assembled a full band – Moroccan chanters, bass and hand percussion – to fill
out his sound.   The percussion,
particularly, builds tension, drive and exoticism into these songs, visions of
camel caravans crossing the desert, veiled dancers, open markets. Closer
“Blood-Stained Sands” is a particularly dense, particularly evocative piece of
work, opening with a drawn out wind instrument’s wail, very much like the call
to prayer, and accelerating into drum-pounding, dizzily discordant forward
motion. You don’t hear the guitar at all during this piece – not sure exactly
what Bishop’s role is – but it is nonetheless an exhilarating, pulse-pounding
ride all the way through.

 

 

Standout tracks: “Blood-Stained Sands,” Taqasim for Omar”, “Kaddak El Mayass.” JENNIFER KELLY

 

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