Raquy and the Cavemen, Jordan (Meef Records, 2005)

I first heard of Raquy and the Cavemen when I attended the 2006 Golden Festival here in New York City. Raquy Danzinger is a percussive sorceress, specializing in the drumming traditions of the Middle East. Her partners in crime include her husband Liron Peled, originally from the Golan Heights, on guitar and drums; Daphna Mor on recorders and nai; Yotam Beery, another Israeli native, on bass; and Rami El-Aasser on riq and bass dumbek. The instrumental tunes on Jordan, their most recent album, can be split into two categories. Half the tunes are performed entirely with percussion instruments, and the steady, sometimes trance-inducing grooves work equally well for listening or as background for belly dances. The remaining tunes have a full band sound, with Raquy doubling on an Iranian bowed instrument called a kemenche. Also inserted between a few of the tracks on the CD are little snippets of a market in Tel-Aviv, a Sufi ceremony outside Istanbul, and Raquy's cat Nouf purring in her Brooklyn apartment.

I definitely prefer the percussive tracks, which have this infectious quality to them that makes it hard to sit still even as I'm trying to type up this review. The full band tunes have their moments, but I felt the drums were a little too heavy and frequently buried any subtlety in the melodies and arrangements. Having also gotten the opportunity to see Raquy perform both with the Cavemen and with another project of hers called The Messengers, I can't really say that Jordan quite matches the band's live show or does justice to Raquy's exceptional stage charisma. Still, Raquy and her band are absolutely worth getting to know, and her ability to reflect the common ground in Jewish and Muslim cultures by simply letting the music do the talking deserves the strongest possible praise. Furthermore, Raquy and the Cavemen's willingness and ability to tour both Egypt and Israel as an American band, and be equally well received in both places, sounds a note of hopeful possibility for this country's future relationship with that troubled region.

Overall Grade: B

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