AMN Reviews: Stefan Christoff – Duets for Abdelrazik (Howlarts)

Improvised at Hotel2Tango, the studio Godspeed You! Black Emperor made famous, and recorded for an arts collective named after Allen Ginsberg´s most celebrated poem, pianist Stefan Christoff and friends meditate à deux over the fate of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-Canadian exiled, jailed and likely tortured in Sudan for six years as a result of Kafkaesque nightmare bureaucracy combining the full incompetence of the RCMP, US, UN and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Though an act of political activism motivated by outrage, the Duets for Abdelrazik are gentle and full of room for reflection. You might even find them “romantic”, in the sense that in slicing through diversion and distortion, instrumental music can say things about dignity and justice that words cannot express. And the form – the “good” duet is a dialogue, which clearly the handling of Abdelrazik was not, and pulses with the Buberian I and thou empathy and recognition necessary to make society.
The blues convocation of Christoff and saxophonist Matana Roberts and later contrabassist Peter Burton move deep and are deeply moving. Norman Nawrocki on violin creeps right in under the skin of Christoff´s piano while Rebecca Foon´s cello sidles up to its curves. Modalities not unfamiliar to listeners of classical and folkloric Mediterranean Rim music (Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria) or John Zorn´s Masada ensembles especially come to the fore when Christoff meets Radwan Ghazi Moumneh on buzuq (or buzek, or bouzouk, depending on your transliteration) and in the extended, wide-ranging dialogue with Sam Shalabi on oud that closes the record. Through it all, Christoff´s piano cascades like a force of nature – it is fulfilling.