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Feelin’ oud: Former Leverett woman brings her Middle-Eastern vibe to kick off Green River Festival

  • Aliya Cycon Project opens the Four Rivers Stage at the Green River Festival Friday night. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Aliya Cycon Submitted Photo

  • The Aliya Cycon Project plays the Four Rivers Stage on Friday evening. July 14, 2017. Paul Franz—Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Friday, July 14, 2017

Opening the Green River Festival’s Four Rivers Stage on Friday night was a new 11-member ensemble led by Aliya Cycon, the 23-year-old former Leverett woman who last year became the first female oud player to graduate from Berklee College of Music.

“The Green River Festival is definitely my biggest venue so far,” said Cycon, who’s performed at the Iron Horse in Northampton and Ryles Jazz Club in Somerville, as well as around Boston.

For Cycon, who grew up studying jazz piano and classical ballet while at Amherst High School, a trip to the Palestinian West Bank with her father — the Dean of Dean’s Beans, a sponsor of Friday night’s World Music Night at the festival — in her year between Amherst and Berklee introduced her to the oud, the pear-shaped lute that’s at the heart of music of the Middle East.

“That just changed my life, and I wanted to switch to oud,” she said. “It felt more like my voice than piano.”

It took a couple of years until it became the heart of her Berklee career as well, and her love of composing and arranging led from the half-dozen-member ensemble she’d been playing with and joining her on a first recording to the group that performed Friday night.

I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate my love for writing and arranging for strings and horns into the existing music, and to make music so it incorporated that,” she said.

The 11-member Aliya Cycon Project includes a string quartet, trombone, soprano saxophone, as well as drums and Mid-East percussion, plus keyboard and electric bass, along with oud, for a sound that has a contemporary sound infused with what she calls “a Middle-Eastern vibe, with little hints of Arabic interludes here and there.”

Anyone who missed the new ensemble Friday will get another chance next month, when she performs an album release party at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center on Aug. 24.