Sudan's Hamza El Din is a master of the oud (a fretless forerunner of the lute), and the man who first introduced Americans to the instrument in the '60s. On this, his first album in three years, his playing is as wonderful and mesmerizing as ever--you can almost feel his fingers touching the strings. While some of the pieces are formal and classical in a Middle Eastern manner, on others he takes flight, using his virtuosity to travel through the whole gamut of emotions in a way that would leave most guitarists in the dust. It all ends on an odd note, however, with a piece that's lovely, but almost New Age in its sweeping melodicism, and which might just (finally) break El Din to a wider audience
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