Ayman Abi Kheir – Zayzafoon

Ayman Abi Kheir, a Lebanese percussionist living in Columbus while he continues his Jazz Studies at Capital University, is releasing his new album Zayzafoon this week. The album release party will be held on Friday, November 22nd at 10pm in the main gallery of The Vanderelli Room in Franklinton. The performance will feature the Columbus-based band that recorded the album: Will Strickler on bass, Jacob Campbell on keys, Christopher Dooley on guitar, Nathan Baker on saxophone, and Kheir on drums. Admission is $15, which includes a copy of the CD and a drink of Linden tea (Zayzafoon is Lebanese for Linden tea). More info is here. Keep reading for my thoughts on the album, a work of worldly influence and timeless spirit.

Opener “Pine” jumps from the gate with saxophonist Baker leading the charge before the tune shifts to a slower, more thoughtful pace. Dooley and Baker contribute passionate solos before the opening theme returns for a satisfying conclusion. The rhythm section of Campbell, Strickler and Kheir lays a sturdy foundation for “Shame Us Lake” before Dooley and Baker team up on a memorably intriguing melody. The guitarist and saxophonist trade lines to dramatic effect before a stately, building passage from Campbell, some wide-ranging soul from Strickler, and a multi-focus finale. Campbell’s subdued but emphatic keys on “Red Neon Light” represent the title quite well and lead something of a gray-scale panorama from the band supporting Baker’s poetic lead. The saxophonist’s solo takes flight but with plenty of theatrical gravity, and Campbell’s passage twists, turns and unfolds at its own precise pace before he takes another turn at the stately rhythm.

“Marwan” opens with a full group improvisation that gives way to a gentle but persistent melody powered by Baker’s lead and Kheir’s deliberate work on the drum set. Strickler’s solo is a well-versed journey, Campbell’s work on the keys is electrically charged, and Dooley jams out, egged on by Baker. Rock flavors hinted at by Dooley on “Marwan” come to the forefront on finale “Parliament Fight,” truly a joyous album-closing jam that leaves it all on the table at multiple tempos. Baker’s melody has some New Orleans spirit, but Dooley’s guitar and Kheir’s fills set the tune on a triumphant path to the arena, and the players contribute one last round of noteworthy solos.

Zayzafoon is highly recommended for all fans of vibrant, living jazz as it shapes familiar elements into exciting new forms. The album is now available on CDBaby and other digital platforms – Stay tuned to Kheir’s Facebook page for updates or pick up a CD at the show! Check out the video for “Pine” below:

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