Al Conti – Scheherazade

15/03/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Al Conti
Title: Scheherazade
Label: Shadowside Music Publishing
Genre: New Age

Track Listing:

1 Daughter of the City
2 Desert Nights
3 Shahryar
4 Seven Veils to Midnight
5 Dunyazad
6 A Thousand Tales
7 Palace Gardens
8 Gold and Spices
9 Eternal Majesty
10 Heart Triumphant

I supposed it was naive of me to think that not every genre has a scene. I was thinking – or maybe hoping – that new age music wouldn’t have one, but whatever the new age scene is, Al Conti seems to be dominating the top end of it. Scheherazade has garnered praise from various corners of the new age world, not least ‘album of the month’ three months running for New Age Reporter. That’s not necessarily because of a lack of entries in the genre but because Scheherazade is quite a classy piece of work. I’m sure the new age clubs and tea emporia are bustling with eager Luddites thrilled at hearing this music in its intended setting whilst eyeing up the bead and dreamcatcher displays.

Scheherazade, Al Conti’s third work, is based very heavily around the theme of Arabia, fully represented in its melodies and artwork. The latter is rather modest in its execution, bearing only the slatted eyes of some jilbaabed nymph and a desert skyline. Inside the digipak, Al stands moodily – and frighteningly – close to a lit torch in a basin while wearing one of those traditional Arabian waistcoats that seemed to do terribly well in Lawrence of Arabia or down at Archway Kebabs. The press release that came with the disc is worded with staggering prolixity but at least it gives you enough time to concentrate on the man behind the muzak, if you could be bothered to read all the way through it. It seems that Al had a lot of exposure to the erotic folk tales of Arabian Nights when he was younger, hence the inspiration for this album. I certainly would have preferred that over the copy of The Joy of Sex on my parent’s bookshelf that always seemed to fall open to page 48, which, beset with diagrammatic drawings, is probably the closest anyone will come to seeing their own conception.

Scheherazade is a very toned down and subtle work. There are no energetic, bombastic rhythms mashed out on tabulars, or the rousing battery of Asian percussion: each song is done with a subtle style and different layers of grace. There’s a lot of variety in the album though it excels in the slower and more sultry moments such as the calming Dunyazad and the mystical Palace Gardens. Conti knows how to to create mystical atmosphere and the album’s certainty not lacking in inspiration or methods through which to transmit it.

Even though Scheherazade employs a lot of instrumentation, not all of this is unsampled. There is a heavy use of guitar, violin and piano, whereas other instruments such as the udu, sitar and hurdy gurdy appear to be synthesised. Yes, this is no surprise for many artists in the genre but at least Conti is able to do it without it sounding too contrived, putting the instruments in where they fit rather than intentionally jabbing them in to fill out the album’s variety and sleeve notes. Thankfully, this doesn’t detract too much from the quality of the music: Scheherazade is a highly atmospheric piece for those who wish for their incidental music to be undemanding, ethereal and emotive. It may pale in comparison to bands like Vas and Irfan, but it’s impressive what the imagination of one man is able to conjure.

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