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Contrary to their name, this band does not leave traditional Arabic music in peace. But nor do they tear it apart on their self-titled and self-released debut CD. They’re based in the American Midwest and they count members of both Arabic and non-Arabic backgrounds among their ranks. As solidly built as their sound is around traditional sources (the liner notes use concise phrases like “improvisation on an Iraqi dance beat” and “love song from Tunisia” to describe the tracks), there are more than enough spins into the unexpected to liven things up. “21st Century Gypsy” sails on a klezmer-like breeze, “Chobi Party,” “Yugrug” and “Nihavent Saz Semaisi” go from structured to loose and jazzy, and even when the group harnesses Ottoman court music from the 1600’s, they add a bit of contemporary swing.

Given such embellishments, though, it’s still obvious they love what they’re spinning off, never mistaking musical fun and adventurousness for mere cutting and pasting to see what does and doesn’t work. A strong point in their favor is going for an unplugged, real-instrument sound throughout, with no computerized beats or the like. So while Salaam have a way with mixing it up, there’s an unspoiled quality that makes this disc, if not exactly ground breaking, certainly an admirable and highly enjoyable effort. Like the variety of hamsa symbols on the back cover, the music here is intricate and a bit mystical. - Tom Orr

Find out more about the band on their web site

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