is the best and most important bassist you've never heard of. He's not important in an "eat-your-peas" sense, either -- not one of these guys whose playing you feel guilty for not enjoying because you know it's supposed to be great. His music, even when it's challenging and exotic, is almost always quite accessible. But you've never heard of him because his highest-profile work has been as a sideman to big-name jazz players like John McLaughlin
and Tony Williams
, and his solo work has almost all been recorded by small, poorly distributed labels (the exception being The Word
, a gorgeous collaboration with the Soldier String Quartet
that was released on Island's Axiom subsidiary). No exception to the rule, Aram of the Two Rivers consists of tracks from two concerts Hellborg
played in Syria with local musicians, and like so much of Hellborg's work, it's absolutely wonderful. Most of the six tracks begin with Hellborg's unaccompanied acoustic bass guitar, which sounds like a pretty boring prospect unless you' re familiar with his playing. He's then joined on some tracks by ney (flute) player Mased Sri al Deen and on others by violin virtuoso Hadi Backdonas, while various percussion instruments support their melodic exchanges. The result will sound foreign to Western ears, but it takes little effort to enjoy it. Note in particular the lovely bass solo in the middle of "Sham" and the mournful playing of Mased Sri al Deen. This is music of rare beauty.