Kane Mathis – Geminus
Kane Mathis is a virtuoso of the 21-string Mandinka harp called the Kora and the Turkish Oud. The Kora is a cut in half calabash covered with cow hide and a long hardwood neck. The 21strings are all different notes but the strings are doubled into pairs. The Oudis a short-necked lute with 10-13 strings.
Kane Mathis studied these instruments for 23 years from masters in Gambia and Istanbul. Completing his studies abroad, he is a widely sought-after artist, both solo and as accompanist.
Now he has released Geminus, heralded as his debut album. With him are John Hadfield on percussion and Sam Minaie on bass. Together they create something new and wondrous from Old World instruments.
Nine of the ten tracks are originals from Mathis with one, Kaira the third track, a traditional piece arranged by Mathis. While the music is indeed contemplative, it is not simply ambient music. The melodies and the rhythms deserve rapt attention. The virtuosity of the three artists is phenomenal and demand repeated hearings in order to focus on each one of them.
From the pulsating rhythms and vibrant strings of the first track, Routes Des Jardins, to the Turkish delight of Kürdi Oud Taksim which leads seamlessly into Kürdi 7 and 9, the transitions are marvelous and the mixing of Turkish and Gambian styles on the track list are incredible. The pounding rhythms of the latter piece are mesmerizing.
Pieces like Kaira, the traditional song, are captivating in their seeming simplicity. But don’t be fooled; these are intricate works, playable only by the masters. Chant is much the same way. Delightful in its ease but determined in its propulsion.
August is a fierce attack of the Oud. The straight-ahead brilliance of the trio’s approach to the rhythms and fascinating melody is remarkable. If it wasn’t clear before that Mathis has chosen his artists well, it will be after hearing this piece.
Etude (for Oud in 3 Sections) is gorgeous. This suite in three movements in wonderful. I couldn’t get enough of this. From the fiercely rhythmic to the sweetly melodic and back to both is rapturous. Then onto Mahayyer Kürdi Semai with its slow but deliberate and adventurous approach and thence to Gemini with its galloping horse pulse. It reminds me of the Kurdish proverb, If you are going to tell the truth, have one foot in the stirrup. Mathis is telling the truth, for certain. A truth of beauty and intention and delivery.
The album concludes with Nikriz Sirto. It is a fitting conclusion to a brilliant album. The melodies are robust and romantic. Indeed, the whole of Geminus is a thing of great beauty and mindfulness, intelligence and vision.
The traditional instruments maybe couched in traditional dynamics and rhythms but something more is happening here. You are encouraged to discover it for yourself.