Marcel Khalife & Sons

Concert Hall, November 28

Marcel Khalife res
Marcel Khalife. Photo: Prudence Upton.

The relationship between father and son has been the stuff of Shakespearian drama and TV sit-com. It may have played its part in invading Iraq and in abrupt shifts of course for certain inherited business empires. It certainly coloured this night’s music, and too often the hue was inclined to make you cry.

Alas, these were tears of frustration. Marcel Khalife is a fine oud player, a better composer and an exceptional singer. His one solo piece in this 90-minute concert was easily the night’s highlight. Singing the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish in Arabic, his voice could have been the cry of a lover for a lifeless mate or of a parent for lost child. The oud trembled and thrummed its gentle lament, and his voice reared up, like a lone candle suddenly flaring in the dark.

For much of the rest of the concert, however, this was a candle likely to be snuffed out by sudden gusts of pretension, thanks to Khalife’s sons, particularly the piano and synthesizer playing of Rami Khalife. How he could opt to trample over the simple truth, power and beauty of his father’s work with wanton showers of bravura piano beggars belief, but this he did routinely. The glorious exceptions, where the piano did no more than frost the surface of the songs, only made the gauche lapses of taste elsewhere more striking.

Rami’s brother Bachar was less at fault, making shrewd use of electronic treatments and adding energised percussion. Yet he, too, was overly eager to add jazz-rock density when less would have been much, much more. He also had a tendency to reduce some rhythms to lowest rock denominators, presumably to “modernise” them.

It’s sad to say, but a solo concert from Marcel Khalife would have been infinitely more rewarding. If you want to hear how these instruments can work in perfect synergy listen to our local oud master, Joseph Tawadros, with pianist Matt McMahon and percussionist James Tawadros.