Joseph Tawadros & James Tawadros

Camelot Lounge, July 19

Reviewed by John Shand


Tawad res
Joseph and James Tawadros. Photo: Angelique Talio.

Do improvising musicians rely more on intense listening, natural affinity, years of collaboration or even shared blood for their rapport? With the Tawadros brothers – oud player Joseph and percussionist James – it’s probably all four. They tested their rapport on the new Live at Abbey Road album with several spontaneous improvisations, which inclined them to do it in concert on a couple of pieces for the first time. They should do it more often.

Not only do they know each other’s playing inside out and share a flair for rhythmic precision, they overlap on the deeper levels of instincts for phrasing, dynamics, space, density, drama and melodic contour. Theirs is an empathy to match those between the great sitar and tabla players of Hindustani classical music.

That blood was not the key ingredient was proved when Matt McMahon joined them, and the two-way rapport effortlessly became triangular, the pianist having been the brothers’ key collaborator for nearly a decade. Add McMahon and Joseph’s melodies recline on exquisitely-voiced harmonies, like curvaceous bodies on soft cushions. The pianist also played a thrilling solo on the jostling twists of Gare de l’Est.

Joseph opened the night with two solo oud pieces, the first of which showed his impeccable logic as an improviser in coaxing a little motif to full bloom. The second, Constellation (from Abbey Road), was a fascinating exploration of the textures created by a collision of glissandi and harmonics, the title reflected in the pointillistic effect.

Across the night he made the oud carry echoes of an ngoni (African Sky), a guitar (Seba Metal) and a banjo (Bluegrass Nikriz, with an enthralling solo introduction from James on req). Even more than a cello, perhaps, the oud is perfect for expressing grief, and on Permission to Evaporate and Heal Tawadros had the opulent low notes weeping and the high ones so brittle with anguish that they almost hurt. This, more than all the fiery virtuosity, is his ultimate strength.

Tawadros Brothers: Camelot Lounge, August 10.