Anouar Brahem: The Astounding Eyes Of Rita (ECM 2075)

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

Anouar Brahem
The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

Anouar Brahem oud
Klaus Gesing bass clarinet
Björn Meyer bass
Khaled Yassine darbouka, bendir
Recorded October 2008  at Artesuono Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Between Rita and my eyes
There is a rifle
And whoever knows Rita
Kneels and prays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
–Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008)

Anouar Brahem’s The Astounding Eyes Of Rita belongs right next to Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes in that sparsely populated category of great ocular titles. Its blend of oud, bass clarinet, bass guitar, and hand drums nests firmly in an outer skin that welcomes all hemispheres into its audible signature. As one of the world’s greatest living masters of the oud, Brahem has thoroughly absorbed its many lives and draws upon them at a plectrum’s touch. Yet he has also done a phenomenal thing, revitalizing the instrument’s musical possibilities through and beyond the very traditions that inform it. Rita represents a mode of composition (all the music here is his own) that he has come to favor: namely, sitting with his oud and letting it sing to him until moved to capture on paper a glint in its endless melodic river. From such seeds he has nurtured a cohesive eight-part program that pools the talents of percussionist Khaled Yassine (playing here mainly the darbouka, or goblet drum), bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing (heard previously on Norma Winstone’s Distances), and electric bassist Björn Meyer (of Nik Bärtsch’s popular Ronin outfit): four as one, joined at the fulcrum like a card twice folded.

Meyer is an especially creative addition. His snaking incense smoke adds a touch of groove to the album’s bookends (“The Lover Of Beirut” and “For No Apparent Reason”) while also emboldening the most personal reflections (e.g., “Waking State”) with due attention and insight. He is nowhere so integrated, however, than in the engaging “Dance With Waves.” Because of him, an otherwise translucent veil thickens into full-blown tapestry, splashed with burnt sienna and vermillion. These are waves internal, drawn not on water but in blood, spoken in the signs of love.

Yassine is another revelation. He reads into every action of his fellow musicians as if it were a dance, painting his entrances carefully as light breaking cloud. Fans of Omar Faruk Tekbilek are sure to feel at home in the way percussion and oud converse throughout Rita, most notably in the title track and in the more absorbent “Al Birwa.” Gesing, for his part, airs his feathers dry in the warm air of “Galilee Mon Amour” and gilds “Stopover At Djibouti” with lilting filigree.

Brahem, however, is the sun of this particular galaxy. His exciting use of harmonics, as in “Stopover At Djibouti,” adds notable color to an already evocative style, weaving through bustling crowds even as he paints them. We can practically feel his mind working and reworking every stone beneath their feet until it offers safest passage. Inspired as much by everyday life as by the dreams that warp it, he focuses on the spaces between the strings, shaping the air that whispers through them into full-fledged texts. His plucking brings a diacritical edge to their base forms, glyphic and real.

(To hear samples of The Astounding Eyes Of Rita, click here.)

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