Review | Songlines

From Our World to Yours

Rating: ★★★★

View album and artist details

Album and Artist Details


Gao Hong & Issam Rafea


ARC Music


This second duo recording by Gao Hong and Issam Rafea – a follow-up to 2018's excellent Life As Is – is a completely improvised set, recorded live in concert at the Kracum Performance Hall at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Having initially met at an artist's residency at that same college, the pair struck up a musical rapport, which manifested in explorations of each other's craft, bolstered by a shared sense of cultural displacement. Both masters of their respective instrument – the Chinese pipa and Syrian oud – each improvisation builds on the high level of communication established on the previous album.

A mood of deep contemplation and gentle melancholia is retained, with the sonorous low-end of the oud blending wonderfully with the weeping tremolo of the pipa. Although on this recording, the duo allows room for more abstract experimentation, often verging on the avant-garde. In pieces such as ‘Outer Space’ and ‘Robot’, both players eke a vast array of textures from their instruments – cascades of bell-like harmonics collide with string scrapes, and on-body percussion – creating brief moments of atonal impressionism. These exploratory passages are always tempered by emotional pathos – especially during the forlorn counterpoint of ‘A Mother's Plea’ – and playful levity, as displayed on ‘Joyful Dance’. The chemistry between Gao Hong and Issam Rafea is never less than impeccable, and this recording serves as the next instalment in a fascinating ongoing conversation.

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