September 2008

John Kameel Farah
at the Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium
September 4, 2008 Mitchell Hall, St. George's Anglican Church Guelph
A Haunting Musical Medley
by Laila Boulos

Andrew Craig, of CBC Radio 2's Canada Live, joked that although it was Frosh Night at the Palace, a Guelph nightclub, Mitchell Hall was packed for this prolific musician. In fact, the crowd filling the seats gave the venue the appearance of Guelph University's Bullring Pub. And as the anticipation and conversation level rose, John Kameel Farah sat quietly at the Rhodes and began the evening of lush musical meanderings.

As Farah bounced between the Fender Rhodes and piano during the performance the cornucopia of exquisite melodies continued to alternate as Farah donned his musical bowler hat and spats evoking a lively player piano sensibility. Gradually shifting the mood, this soundscape artist continued to create the spine-tingling aural experience of icicles falling against glass.

Not only is this Canadian of Palestinian descent a talented composer, multi-instrumentalist (adept at piano, harpsichord, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Pianet, and synthesizer, among others), he is also an accomplished visual artist. While a student of piano and music composition at the University of Toronto, Farah was awarded the Glenn Gould Composition Scholarship not only in 1993 but also in 1994. Now Magazine also nominated Farah Best Pianist in 2006. He recently held the position of Visual Artist in Residence at The Trane Studio which is also a popular live music venue in Toronto.
John Kameel Farah

The mille feuille layering of sound in his eloquent compositions called to mind Christian Sinding's Rustle of Spring (Fruhlingsrauchen), Op. 32, No. 3 one minute and the wrath of Zeus the next as storm clouds of notes crashed madly down from the stage and over the audience. Watching Farah play, it was easy to imagine this musical genius sitting at the piano for days playing into oblivion as he loses himself in his fantastical creations.

As the evening progressed, a musical world tour unfolded. A lush Middle Eastern sensibility mingled melodically with the Baroque flavour of one piece, then the mood twirled seamlessly into a Star Wars-themed melody which called to mind Farah’s soundtrack (Creation) for John Dubinski's 2006 computer animation of galactic formation.

Later, as the audience sat as quietly as beer drinking university students on a pub night can, Farah flowed into a flamenco-on-tiptoe themed piece that slowly shifted into an Arabic melody, which he later referred to as "Dubstep".

To create the intricate Middle Eastern quartertones, Farah has his instruments and those of the musicians with whom he plays retuned and detuned to produce original and unexpected musical tapestries. Which explains how, after playing one of his more dramatically woven pieces of the evening, he mentioned to the audience that he had just played a classic Arabic piece that most closely resembled a sonata.

Whether playing Arabic-drenched pieces or electronically based freewheeling compositions, Farah's classical training is apparent at every level of his performance. And this evening's display of virtuosity escorted a fascinated audience through a repertoire of free improvisation, Middle Eastern microtones and classically textured pieces while incorporating electronics such as Drum and Bass.

Farah's performance, although musically complex, remained light with airy breaks and the whimsical use of electronic effects in a performance void of repetition with fresh musical twists and unexpected turns.

This performance was recorded for future broadcast on The Signal that is heard nightly at 10 p.m. on CBC Radio 2 with hosts Laurie Brown and Pat Carrabre.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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