Essential New Music: The Handover’s “The Handover”

The Handover suggests something transactional. But the sound and the effect of the music created by oudist Aly Eissa, violinist Ayman Asfour and synthesizer/organ player Jonas Cambien aims higher. These two Egyptians (each initially self-taught) and one Norway-based Belgian (with a deep background in jazz and classical music) are united by their determination to transcend genre, nationality and even time in pursuit of sonic communion.

They waste little time with words; the band, the album and the piece that Eissa, Asfour and Cambien perform all share the same name. This economy extends to the material at hand, since they requite just one composition (by Eissa) to launch them on a trajectory that’s 49 minutes long. Its form is rooted in classical Arabic tradition, but Cambien’s taste in keyboard tones encompasses ’60s psychedelia and a fusion of late-’70s electric jazz and Egyptian pop.

Together, they navigate winding passages, during which the string players trade off on stoking the brisk and unflinching rhythmic momentum to arrive at moments where each musician takes improvisational flight, blazing with an incendiary spontaneity that the ensemble then feeds back into music. The effect of several rounds of collective development is deeply thrilling and transformative. Wherever your mind and body might be when The Handover begins, they’ll be someplace better when it ends. [Sublime Frequencies]

—Bill Meyer