Faraj Suleiman’s path has been fraught with obstacles: when you’re born in 1984 in a Palestinian village, a career as a pianist is not a straightforward journey. And even if his name’s now known to European music lovers, he struggled during the pandemic — stuck in Paris even though he lives in Haifa—to get his new album out there. That’s the meaning of its title, As Much As It Takes. Whatever it takes, Suleiman composes and records to add to his already copious discography, because music overwhelms him. It’s the expression of his joys and sorrows, his anger too. It’s instrumental and narrative: it’s intimate, universal and political. Any work produced by a Palestinian is, according to the pianist, intrinsically political.
As Much As It Takes tells his story, from a youth torn between piano lessons and playing football with his mates, to the Montreux Jazz Festival, where he lived out his artist’s dream. Alongside his albums of songs, including Upright Biano in 2023, the prolific composer has created an instrumental project whose eleven tracks trace the stages of his dizzying career: Rama Village echoes his childhood, Akka-Safad is named after the road that crosses the Galilean landscape, Dal’ouna In The Galilean Wedding evokes the wedding music his father intended him to play, and so on. Recorded in Switzerland, As Much As It Takes is performed as a duo, a trio, a quartet or a quintet with Louis Matute (guitar), Jules Martinet (double bass) and Alberto Malo (drums), as well as oudists Darwish Darwish and Habib Shehadeh Hanna, plus the exceptional participation of trumpeter Erik Truffaz on Oriental Melody and Have You Eaten? The latter refers to Suleiman’s grandmother, who still worries whether he’s eaten, even when he’s just performed on a prestigious European stage.
The aesthetic is composite, as is always the case with Suleiman, who’s equally rooted in his family’s Arab music, trained in academic classical music, steeped in the history of jazz and adept at contemporary improvisation. He doesn’t cite any decisive influences, as they’re both too numerous and too muddled in his own work; all he does is mention Tigran Hamasyan—for whom jazz and Armenian tradition collide with heavy metal—as a possible reference. Suleiman walks a tightrope between East and West, taking care to appeal to listeners on both shores. His wirework also balances between the groove of his left hand and the melodies of his right, between the sophistication of his compositions and his concern for narrative music. On this new album, too, there’s a balance between the piano and the oud, whose dialogues are sometimes refined (Table for Two) and sometimes torrential (Unsolved Cube). These ambitions are supported by unfiltered emotions, from romanticism to anger. The Palestinian doesn’t conceal the tensions that imprint certain tracks (the electric guitar riffs in On Your Toes), explaining that they emanate from his life in Haifa, steeped in Israeli oppression. From Haifa to Paris and from Paris to Haifa, the cities where Suleiman lives are the main source of his inspiration.
Hosted in residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, then held back by the pandemic in Paris for three years, the pianist gave birth to As Much As It Takes on European soil. His return to Haifa is naturally the subject of the album’s final track, Return, which conveys both the eagerness and the appeasement of the completed journey. Faraj Suleiman’s music is instrumental, but it tells us stories — his own, but also those of all the Palestinians buffeted by the winds of conflict, and of us all.