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Universe Thin As Skin is the debut solo album from Portland, Maine’s Tom Kovacevic, a multi-instrumentalist who has been a vital part of the Portland musical landscape through his work with the bands Olas, Fire on Fire, Cerberus Shoal, and tarpigh. For his solo debut, Kovacevic focuses on the Arabic music he has been studying for twenty years. The album features songs performed on the oud, the nay flute, and both djembe and tchung drums.
Kovacevic had played guitar for many years when he decided to learn how to play the guitar’s ancestor, the oud. After playing the oud for some time he learned the nay flute (rim blown and fully chromatic) which is not only one of the oldest instruments in continual use (4,000+ years), but also one of the most difficult to play. One of the predominating musical influences on the record is related to the drums used. The djembe and tchung drums used were made in Senegal, and artists such as Bembeya Jazz National, Super Diamano De Dakar, and Salif Keita are vital influences.
Universe Thin As Skin was recorded at the Blue House, where Tom lives with Cerberus Shoal and Big Blood member Caleb Mulkerin, who also recorded the album. The record took about six months to record, as both would meet when they had availability. This is also the main reason Tom played all the instruments on the record.
Lyrically the album addresses life in this world in which we find ourselves. There are references to the new physics, an area of interest. “Song for Peter” was written for the brother of a good, good friend whose life hung in the balance (he survived). The nay flute pieces “Kürdi” and “Dulab Bayati” are in traditional Maqams (modes), and “Dulab Bayati” is in a traditional Arabic form. The title track is special because it was written in the living room, just in front of the dining room pictured on the front and back covers of the album. This is the house Tom grew up in, and it is no longer in the family.
Tom was a member of the group tarpigh as well as Fire on Fire with Micah Blue Smaldone and members of Cerberus Shoal. He also currently performs with Olas, a group that features two flamenco dancers and original compositions as well as with the Alhan Middle Eastern Classical Music Ensemble.