Nick Fraser: drums
John Kameel Farah: piano, synthesizer, electronics


(Elastic Recordings, 2024)
Bandcamp – Farahser



In recent years, Toronto-based drummer Nick Fraser has a become an increasingly important figure within the international improvised music community. In 2019, Downbeat’s J.D. Considine called him “a longtime staple of the Toronto jazz scene—and for good reason. Not only is he a tremendously creative player, equally at home with free-form improvisation and standard bop-style jazz, he’s also a remarkably attentive listener.” The Juno-Award winner has recorded and performed with noted figures as Lina Allemano, Tony Malaby, Ingrid Laubrock, Matt Brubeck, Brodie West, Kris Davis, Joe Lovano, Joe McPhee, Marilyn Crispell, Anthony Braxton, and William Parker as well as leftfield song-based artists such as Owen Pallett, Eric Chenaux, Jeremy Dutcher, and Sandro Perri. Fraser’s discography includes recordings on respected imprints such as Hat Hut, Clean Feed, Ambiances Magnétiques, and Astral Spirits that feature him either as leader or a primary collaborator. He has also toured extensively throughout North America and Europe.

Fraser was the one that instigated this vibrant new duo album project, Farahser, citing his interest to collaborate with players that thrive in spontaneous settings, but whose main artistic focus lies beyond improvised music as a codifed genre. “I thought that this might create an interesting tension between the musical worlds at play,” says the drummer/ composer.

The development of John Kameel Farah‘s career has paralleled that of Fraser, albeit largely in a musical idiom entirely of his own creation. Farah palpably maintains his improvisational prowess, while investing much of his creative energies into shaping his own deeply idiosyncratic soundworld, a singular amalgam drawing from various strains of contemporary music, exploratory jazz, Baroque and renaissance music, as well as the heft and harmonies of the late romantic era, the abstract pulses and sound design of curious-eared electronica, and Arabic music—an homage to his Palestinian heritage. The Toronto/Berlin-based composer, piano (and other keyboard instrument) virtuoso, and electronic musician regularly performs across Europe in venues such as Berlin’s Volksbühne and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the Kölner Philharmonie, Sadler’s Wells in London, the Elbphilharmonic in Hamburg, and most recently in the Berlin Philharmonic chamber hall. He also has toured throughout the North America, and has enjoyed engagements in South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, and Israel/Palestine. An erstwhile student of the legendary Terry Riley, Farah has since enjoyed numerous notable collaborations in addition to his solo output. He is currently composing a new work for piano and orchestra as part of a National Arts Centre residency in Canada and in 2016 he received a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his work with renowned choreographer Peggy Baker.

“I first met Nick in my early twenties as I was just beginning to improvise publicly on the experimental and free jazz scene in Toronto,” remembers Farah. “His lifelong, almost religious dedication to improvisation, and his willingness to go in any direction no matter how strange, made him a magnet for many creative players, so he was a formative part of my growth and experience as an improviser. Reconnecting with him musically after two decades was not only exciting to come full circle, but also to see, after some twenty years, what comes next?”

Farahser‘s underlying creative process began with Farah and Fraser congregating in the studio to laydown a foundation of 26 impromptu duets. As such, piano and drum kit often occupy the foreground of the record. Following these sessions, the pair extracted their favourites with the idea that Farah would continue to work with the audio, superimposing addition elements and applying various treatments with guidance from Fraser.

The result, both in terms of sound and approach, defies categorization, and yet manages to embody everything that makes improvised exchanges so vital, especially between two artists that know each other well. Both players remain dynamic, responsive and powerfully invested throughout, discovering unexpected convergences, cultivating mutual textures, and veering together into other unforeseen spaces.

The album opens with the ghostly, chromatic, and ambient-infected “Flatland,” but soon the pair proceed to unfurl a web of woven, cascading pulses on the dizzying “Twigs.” The nimble-fingered “Insect Mountain” begins with Fraser and Farah engaging in a fidgety pointillist counterpoint but soon expands into larger figures whose contour is traced by brass synth tones. “Waltz”, the album’s briefest track, is built on a recurring piano figure that dissolves into glitchy fragmentation, with crackling freeform drums derived Fraser’s playing but digitally smeared beyond recognition. Though much of the eerie “Dirge” maintains a slinky rhythmic foundation, it erupts temporarily into a blizzard of abstracted instrumentation, led by some of Fraser’s most urgent drumming on the record, and electronically mangled piano glissandi. In spite of its title and initial textural orientation, “Baby Birds” ends up quite explosive with strident synths and thunderous acoustic playing from both parties. “The Churn” is a ghostly offering that almost evokes a futuristic dub of Paul Bley with its deep resonances and lyrical chromaticism. “Elevator” closes the record and features Fraser inhabits a decidedly ethereal space while Farah offers warm gliding synths, and waves of tumbling piano that fold in upon on themselves.

Farahser not only documents two of Canada’s most distinctive and important talents creating together outside of stylistic conventions, it also furnishes fresh responses to two pertinent questions Fraser asked himself at the outset of this endeavour: “What can be done to/with improvisation to alter it?” and “where does improvisation end and composition start?”


“A subtle, highly collaborative and original percussionist, Fraser deserves a much larger audience […] Fraser’s compositions are as diverse as his playing, filled with motivic cells that overlap and merge, and studded with rhythm devices like the staccato feel of his opening Zoning or the more evident piano ostinato of Wells Tower.”
— Matt Miccuci, Jazziz

“The Toronto drummer is perhaps a little too progressive for the hidebound Canadian scene. A deft and sensitive percussionist with a hint of an enigmatic streak, a feeling for economical gestures and an innate sense of form.”
— Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail

“After about ninety minutes, John Kameel Farah’s performance ends. In the end, it’s hard to say for sure: was that jazz? Or progressive classical? Or electronics? But you don’t have to put any stamp on this music, you don’t have to put it in a drawer. She stands for herself and her magic of opening up completely new worlds of sound and perspectives on music to the listener. John Kameel Farah certainly achieved that with this concert. He more than deserved the standing ovation”
Konrad Bender, Regioactive.de

“World-renowned composer-pianist John Kameel Farah is versed in classical, minimalist, jazz, electronic and Arabic music, and performs with piano, synthesizer, computer and, at times, harpsichord and organ. His latest album, Time Sketches, blends these elements with symphonic vision and fluidity.”
— Peter Ellman, Exclaim!