"A" Trio – Live In Nickelsdorf

The Al Maslakh label (translation: The Slaughterhouse) has been documenting far-thinking sounds from the small but vital Lebanese scene since 2005. The “A” Trio’s first release, Music To Our Ears, was one of the most startling debuts of 2011; now, Roaratorio is proud to present their second album (and first vinyl release): Live In Nickelsdorf, recorded at the Konfrontationen Festival in 2012. While far from the first to employ extended techniques on their respective instruments, Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet), Sharif Sehnaoui (acoustic guitar), and Raed Yassin (doublebass) create a music that bears little relation to others who traffic in the same outer realms. Heavily textural, frequently perplexing, sometimes unsettling but always suffused with a provocative intelligence, this is the sound of a collective ur-mind that favors the long gesture over pointillistic strokes. Their capacity for generating aural illusions – one would be hard-pressed to identify the instrumentation as three acoustic instruments, with no electronics or overdubs whatsoever – is astounding, but it’s their skill at harnessing these uncanny tones into a consistently engaging and powerful sound-world that elevates the “A” Trio into the front rank of contemporary improvisational groups. 

“Having taken their exploration of acoustic extended techniques even further on again from their 2010 debut, so little remains of the traditional sound of trumpet, guitar and double bass that it feels like the relevant traditions have been passed through a mincing machine. It’s so oppressive and frequently unnerving in its insistent and uncompromising intensity that when traditional instrument sounds do poke their heads up through the subterranean grittiness, they serve as a reminder of how remarkable the trio’s unedited, overdub-free approach really is.” – Richard Pinnell, The Wire


Sharif Sehnaoui / acoustic gutar
Raed Yassin / double bass
Mazen Kerbaj / trumpet


Recorded live at the Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf on Saturday 21st of July 2012 during the 33rd Konfrontationen Festival. Photography by Tanya Traboulsi. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael W. Huon.

Available as a 320k MP3 or 24bit FLAC download


1. Mechwar Rayhin Mechwar (Part 1) 18:50
2. Mechwar Rayhin Mechwar (Part 2) 22:33

The A Trio

If you look up moving companies in the Yellow pages, you’ll see a bunch of companies who put “A” in front of their name (as in A-Alert Moving), presumably in the hope that you’ll call the first listing you find in the book. I kind of doubt that the “A” Trio had this stratagem in mind when they picked their name, since there just aren’t that many improvising trios in their home town of Beirut, Lebanon. Perhaps they’re declaring that they’re the A list? I suppose they are, and not just by default.

Trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, bassist Raed Yassin and guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui have developed a cohesive improvisational style founded upon a peculiar blend of isolation and connectedness. No one who comes from one of the centers of improvisational activity (Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Chicago, New York, Tokyo) is likely to give their record a name so defensive as Music to our Ears; they would have had the chance to play to audiences who long since got past the question of whether a guy generating digeridoo drones and metallic clatter with his partially disassembled trumpet and some tubes is playing music. The members of “A” Trio, on the other hand, are building their scene in a place with no history of avant-garde music.

But they’re hardly naïfs. All three musicians are quite aware of improvisational practice around the world, having performed extensively in the U.S. and the E.U.; both Yassin and Sehnaoui have spent years living in Europe. And since they have a little scene at home to fall back upon, each year since 2000 Sehnaoui and Kerbaj have held a festival named Iritijal that serves both to declare their continued existence and to bring fresh non-Lebanese players to Beirut. But the rest of the year, they play with each other, which explains the coherenceMusic to our Ears displays even when it sounds like each man is elaborating on ideas independent of what the others are doing. Their common ground includes a tendency to deal more with texture than melody and rhythm, and each man can make his acoustic, unamplified instrument sound electronic. “Textural Swing,” the record’s first and longest track at 33.15, sounds like a series of field recordings. It starts out in the engine room, shifts to a swamp, takes in a windblown junkyard, and ends up on a conveyor belt rolling deep into a mine without ever losing the thread, let alone giving away the fact that it’s made by three guys playing trumpet, double bass and guitar. There’s nothing at all swinging about it, but they aren’t completely averse to sustained rhythm or identifiable forms. “The Shape Of Jazz That Came” opens with a vibrant cascade of struck strings that come close to the jubilant pulse of Arnold Dreyblatt’s Orchestra Of Excited Strings, although it doesn’t stay there long. And Sehnaoui manages to work some bluesy string bending into “Tomorrow, I’ll Make Breakfast.” The music is generally quite busy, but it never feels like pointless chatter. Rather, it’s purposeful to the point of urgency. - Bill Meyer