Karkhana “Al Azraqayn”

Karkhana is a seven-headed hydra featuring musicians from Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, and Chicago. Recorded live in 2019, the group is ascendent on Al Azraqayn. Finding a psychedelic island somewhere between classic Middle Eastern folk, avant jazz chaos, and heavy jazz-fusion grooves, Karkhana’s music is free and flowing like a river on fire. Al Azraqayn shifts through six different movements, each subsequent pass growing more expansive until the whole house explodes on “Rock Farock.”

The word I keep coming back to when I blast Al Azraqayn is energy. Karkhana is channeling something ancient that permeates each infused percussive blast or Umut Çağlar going supernova as he does on “Huli,” or even the guitar shred from Sam Shalabi and Sharif Sehnaoui that turns up around every other corner. The whole album is infused with this infectious, transcendental spirit. 

Fleeting rhythms roll beneath Maurice Louca’s feathery synths tinged with vivid colors in the opening stanzas of “Al Sal3awa” before Shalabi’s oud captivates listeners with hypnotic, weaving passages backed by Michael Zerang’s darbouka. It’s one of the most traditional parts of Al Azraqayn, but Mazen Kerbaj’s high-frequency whirring electronics filter in through the floor, poking holes in the conventional themes before boiling over and descending into growling noise. “Al Sal3awa” is one hell of a ride over 10 ½ minutes.

Thriving in free-flowing, at times uncomfortable, places is not an easy feat, but this is clearly where Karkhana is at home. Their solid rhythm section, anchored by Zerang and bassist Tony Elieh, provides the foundation for Karkhana to soar. One listen to their opening groove session on the spectacular “Sidi Mansour” and it’s clear where the drive that pushes the group interstellar comes from. Al Azraqayn is a fire-breathing celebration of Karkhana’s inimitable ability to fuse disparate styles and ideas into a cohesive, genius amalgamation. Don’t wait any longer to take this ride.

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