The second album in Phil Thronton & Hossam Ramzy's "Egypt" trilogy is an eclectic, diverse offering, featuring an array of instrumentation and soundscapes that make for a hypnotic and enchanting listen. Thornton and Ramzy combine instruments from both the Eastern and Western musical worlds to present a truly fascinating collection of songs.
The music runs the gamut from the sensual (opener "At the Gates of the Citadel") to the moody, and sometimes even creepy (the title track). As much as the music hits the recognizable elements of popular Arabic music, it's never clichéd or stereotyped - you can imagine dusty Cairo streets or belly dances by firelight if you want, but Thornton, Ramzy and their impressive list of guest musicians (Ahmed Abdel Fattah, Sayed El Sha-er and Mohamed Abu El Khair, to name but a few) make the songs much more tangible and interesting than what images your first impressions will conjure.
The instrumentation on offer is extensive; you've got the standards, like keyboards, the oud, Arabian flute and tablas, but the ensemble is completed with a mimzar (an Egyptian oboe), a rebaba (an Egyptian two-string violin) and a kawala (a bamboo flute used for religious music). There was even an electric guitar thrown into the mix, which was a pleasant surprise. Thornton and Ramzy refuse the temptation to create a wall of sound with the sizable resources at their disposal, and their restrained and careful use of the instruments makes every song on the album unique.
Immortal Egypt is my first introduction to the Thornton & Ramzy's "Egypt" trilogy (the other two being Enchanted Egypt and Eternal Egypt). It's a captivating, fascinating album and will stay with you long after the final notes melt into the starry Cairo sky.