Kinan Azmeh

Genre-blurring international touring clarinetist, jazz bandleader and composer Kinan Azmeh’s comfort zone is a perennial cascade of flow. “I was the Damascene in New York and the New Yorker in Damascus,” he says. “I am now more interested in being the New Yorker in New York and the Damascene in Damascus. Both cities with all their contrasting qualities are intellectually stimulating to me. Places, people, nature, tragedies and celebrations, all of these elements have found their way into the music I create. Being in a constant state of FLOW is now my new zone of comfort.”

From an incredibly busy touring life as soloist with orchestras and as leader of his Arab-Jazz quartet The Kinan Azmeh CityBand to keeping a busy composer’s life with many recent commissions including Songs for Days to Come, a full length opera that fuses poetry, orchestral writing and improvisation and fully sung in Arabic. The work premiered in Germany this summer with great success. The “intensely soulful” (New York Times) and “spellbinding” (New Yorker) Azmeh also continues to create one gem of a record after another, including  his orchestral album Uneven Sky with the Deutsches Symphony Berlin in 2019, which won Germany’s OpusKlassik, and the recent FLOW with the legendary NDR Big Band, which released in November of last year and shows Kinan music in a very different lens that fuses the unique sound of Kinan’s clarinet, his distinctive approach to improvisation and the big sonic world of the big band.

FLOW presents Kinan’s music in fantastic arrangements of Wolf Kerschek, performed by the legendary NDR Bigband. “For me, the NDR Bigband is not only a jazz ensemble; I see it as a great and flexible collective of composers, arrangers, improvisers, instrumentalists and human beings,” explains Azmeh. The form also provides a malleable conduit for the transcendent sounds Azmeh creates.

“Jazz has been an incredible vessel in accommodating and hosting other world music traditions. It does that so naturally by blurring the lines between the composed and the improvised, and also by celebrating the sound and ideas of every individual,” he says. “My music has often been described as ‘east meets west’ and I am not a big fan of such titles. I simply compose and play what I like to hear, and I happen to like a wide variety of musical vocabularies. For me, the NDR Bigband is not only a jazz ensemble; I see it as a great and flexible collective of composers, arrangers, improvisers, instrumentalists and human beings.”

Originally from Damascus, Syria, Kinan Azmeh brings his music to all corners of the world as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include the Opera Bastille, Paris; Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Moscow; Carnegie Hall and the UN General Assembly, New York; the Royal Albert Hall, London; Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires; Philharmonie, Berlin; the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, Washington DC; the Mozarteum, Salzburg, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie; and in his native Syria at the opening concert of the Damascus Opera House. He has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Duesseldorf Symphony Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra among others, and has shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Marcel Khalife, John McLaughlin, Francois Rabbath, Aynur and Jivan Gasparian.

IMAGES: To download, click above. Image one by Liudmila Jeremies. Image two by Layale Chaker.