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Ayman Fanous and Tomas Ulrich, "Labyrinths" (Konnex)

Ayman Fanous is a unique and indispensable resource for the Richmond musical community -- as both an associate professor of psychiatry (at Virginia Commonwealth Universtiy and Georgetown University) and an accomplished improvising guitarist with deep roots in the New York downtown avant-garde.

Fanous' March performance with longtime collaborator cellist Tomas Ulrich was one of the high points of 2007, an unpredictable blend of warm sonorities and spiky improvisation. Watching their intuitive interaction made it easier to follow a path through their sonic labyrinth; disembodied on CD, the music seems harder-edged and abstract. The pieces evolve moment to moment and demand a suspension of conventional melodic expectations.

For those willing to make the leap, there are rewards: Ulrich's imaginative use of the full range of his highly vocal instrument, Fanous' fractured flamenco runs. And for those whose tastes are more conventional, at the exact center of the recording is the lovely, Spanish-tinged "Chiciana Vere." — Peter McElhinney

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