Wanees Zarour
  • Fadi Freij
  • Wanees Zarour

Palestinian musician and composer Wanees Zarour has been a fixture on Chicago’s international music scene for more than a decade, adapting his fluency on the violin and the buzuq (a long-necked Arabic lute related to the Greek bouzouki and the Turkish saz) for a wide variety of musical traditions from the Middle East and the Mediterranean. For the last four years he’s led the well-regarded Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at the University of Chicago (taking over for oudist Issa Boulos in 2010), leading the group through a broad traditional repertoire, but as the musician’s debut album proves, his personal aesthetic is even broader. He celebrates the release of Quarter to Midnight with a performance at Constellation on Saturday night.

The music on the record brings to mind a like-minded hybrid of Arabic tradition, jazz, and other international flavors explored by fellow Palestinian expat Simon Shaheen, who developed a sophisticated fusion of traditions with his group Qantara. There’s no missing that Zarour uses the music of his homeland as the foundation for his original music, but his elegant arrangements overlay a rhythmic buoyancy that borrows effortlessly from postbop and even bossa nova. Like Shaheen, Zarour avoids glib pastiche and instead makes meaningful, seamless connections, rigorously integrating disparate styles so they make musical sense. There are moments on the album I find a bit too chirpy and light—some of the flute solos by Elizabeth Diaz are rather florid—but by and large the arrangements, including some pieces that utilize a string quartet, are pitch-perfect.

For Saturday’s concert Zarour will be joined by Diaz, bassist Nick Macri, New York percussionist Tareq Rantisi, guitarist Alex Wing, cellist Hannah Vis, and Boston-based clarinetist Athanasios Athanassiadis. Below you can check out one of the album’s best pieces, “Sama’i,” which features extended playing from Zarour on buzuq.


Correction: Wanees Zarour plays a Turkish oud rather than a buzuq on “Sama’i.”

Today’s playlist:

Charles Lloyd, Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (Atlantic)
No Age, An Object (Sub Pop)
Nite Jewel, Good Evening (Secretly Canadian)
Ray Russell, Rites and Rituals (Columbia, UK)
Suzanne Farrin, Corpo di Terra (New Focus)