A musician of the world addresses contemporary politics

Layale Chaker, Sarafand: Radio Afloat

The Strad Issue: July 2024

Description: A musician of the world addresses contemporary politics

Musicians: Layale Chaker (violin, voice) Sarafand

Catalogue number: IN A CIRCLE RECORDS ICR031

Releasing two CDs on the same day – one classical, the other jazz (both deeply contested terms, obviously, surely seldom more so than with this pair of albums) – seems like a statement of intent, even a challenge. And it’s to Lebanese-born, Brooklyn-based violinist, composer and vocalist Layale Chaker’s enormous credit that she achieves such a rich, distinctive musical language in both – one that cherry picks from cool contemporary classical, simmering jazz, ear-tweaking Arabic microtonality and gently probing improvisation – and also makes the two releases so utterly different from each other.

For the title of her second jazz album with the quintet Sarafand, Chaker uses the potent image of a radio lost at sea, transmitting the voices and hopes of people from many continents, while deeply connected with the natural world. Similarly, there are collisions between apparently disconnected voices here – Chaker’s own decidedly Arabic violin inflections in ‘Khab Nisan’ jar with soft-jazz harmonies from Phillip Golub’s piano and later an arresting interlude from his microtonal keyboard, though cellist Jake Charkey brings the track back to land with a heartfelt, earthy solo. Charkey is a richly expressive presence throughout, matching Chaker’s subtly expressive ornamentation in ‘Fall of Rome’, while contributing a portamento-thick melodic line to percussionist John Hadfield’s slinky, stuttering rhythms in ‘Sketch – Unraveled’.

Whether as a breathy vocalist or nimble violinist, Chaker makes her presence keenly felt amid the disc’s gloriously far-reaching range of styles, and its almost bewildering collection of moods, textures, ideas and perspectives. Her music is unfailingly fluent and elegant, even when it’s at its most complex.