Friends of note

Pianist Dinuk Wijeratne and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh share friendship and musical history on their new album. Sean Flinn listens.

Halifax pianist Dinuk Wijeratne is welcoming an old friend and artistic ally, clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, to town. Sri Lankan-born and Dubai-raised Wijeratne and Syrian Azmeh met at Juilliard's International House. "It was this international residence in the heart of New York. It was a huge mansion-looking building," says Wijeratne, with "people from about 100 different nationalities and from different fields."

There, Azmeh performed in a concert series that Wijeratne programmed. "You had all this time for rehearsal, to talk about music and film and all these cool things," Wijeratne says. "And then after the concert you'd get to sit down with people who were actually filmmakers or scientists."

On Friday, he and Azmeh present the Canadian premiere of Complex Stories, Simple Sounds, their new release on the Incognito label. The pair has performed these compositions in the US, in Beirut, Paris, across the Middle East and soon will premiere it at the Berlin Philharmonie.

The album was recorded in December 2007 during a day-long session at Lunenburg's St. John's Anglican Church.

"They have one of the finest pianos in the province," says Wijeratne. "[St. John's} doesn't have a typically church acoustic."

He refers to it as being "very dry," meaning "there's not much reverb in the sound. It doesn't echo. So you can enhance the sound in post-production. We preferred that."

Complex Stories is comprised of three original compositions by Wijeratne, two by Azmeh, an improvisation based on a Béla Bartók piece, a remix of track five, "Something There," by Umut Gökçen and an electroacoustic collaboration between Azmeh and Gökçen, called "Resuf."

The recording's first two tracks, Wijeratne's favourites, present a portrait of each musician's compositional character. Wijeratne describes his opener, "The Learning Curve," as "more dark and intense" than the second piece, Azmeh's "Ibn Arabi's Postlude," but, he adds, "If you invest yourself in the beginning, you get taken all the way through. There's a strong arc there."

Despite their musical differences, the two friends share a love of film, especially Hitchcock. Like the cinematic master, the duo creates and sustains suspense in the music, emphasizing "the approach" over the arrival at the critical moment. When resolutions are reached, they're not obvious payoffs. "You're always conscious of not giving away too much too soon, which is exactly the way a filmmaker would think," says Wijeratne.

He and Azmeh improvised most of the material during recording, bringing in Indian rhythms and Middle Eastern modes and weaving patterns of repetition and variation. Wijeratne also enlisted Azmeh to provide music for this weekend's Flamenco Con Fusion II, featuring the Maria Osende Flamenco Company, Alex Condo (piano) and Haggai Cohen Milo (bass).

"Flamenco came from a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern influences originally because of the Moors," Wijeratne points out. As well, flamenco draws out tension. "The atmosphere is very intense. It's really explosive," Wijeratne says. "Everything is so contained and compressed. So the idea is that you create tension by giving the impression that something is going to explode, but it never does---or maybe once, kind of like a Hitchcock film."

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