Anouar Brahem: Blue Maqams (ECM 2580)

2580 X

Anouar Brahem
Blue Maqams

Anouar Brahem oud
Dave Holland double bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Django Bates piano
Recorded May 2017 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Nate Odden
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: October 13, 2017

If you’ve ever awoken from a dream with enchanting music on the brain, only to have it fade as the day wears on, Anouar Brahem’s Blue Maqamsmay just recapture the feeling of preserving it. The album is at once a return to form and a new direction for the Tunisian oudist, reuniting him with bassist Dave Holland (cf. 1998’s Thimar) and recording for the first time with drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Django Bates.

The introductory oud of “Opening Day,” solo but never alone, is a voice of pale light out of darkness, a careful witness of things just visible enough to understand. Holland listens from the periphery before locking step. DeJohnette feathers the edges, while Bates offers his gentle inclusions with the felicity of a poet. Thus complete, the quartet’s sound embarks as one body, lucid and self-aware.

Patience is the blood of Blue Maqams, as proven in “La Nuit.” Arpeggios from the keyboard are the nerves to Brahem’s soft impulses as deep notes flow duskily beneath. Only after six and a half minutes do bass and drums make their anchorage known, a formula replicated in “The Recovered Road to Al-Sham.” Such meticulously rooted stems produce ample flowers, and none so supple as the title track. Here Brahem and DeJohnette engage dialectically before a snaking theme works its way into the ventricles. Brahem’s cadenza—a thread of mournfulness in an otherwise peaceful weave—is the album’s conscience.

Bates delights in the duet “La Passante,” a tender segue into “Bom Dia Rio.” The latter is, along with “Bahia,” the smoothest joint of the set. A seamless ride through ocean waves and playful nights, it builds passion out of thin air and contrasts with “Persepolis’s Mirage,” in which we encounter something convoluted, emotional, emigrational. “Unexpected Outcome” closes the door by opening another. A steady rhythm section gives Brahem and Bates plenty of room to glide as the bandleader’s voice carries winged messages. Everything funnels into a final shimmer, making for one of the most stunning assemblages to ever graze its hands across ECM waters.

Anouar Brahem: Vague (ECM 1881)

Vague

Anouar Brahem
Vague

Anouar Brahem oud
Béchir Selmi violin
Lassad Hosni bendir, darbouka
John Surman bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Dave Holland bass
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
François Couturier piano, synthesizer
Jean-Louis Matinier accordion
Kudsi Erguner ney
Jean-Marc Larché soprano saxophone
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Barbaros Erköse clarinet
Richard Gálliano accordion
Recorded 1990-2001
Produced by Manfred EIcher

This conspectus of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem, exclusively released in France and Belgium in 2003, might have flown under most radars, but considering that its tracks are taken from pre-existing ECM albums, there’s nothing lost in skipping this one. For those new to Brahem, however, this is a worthy place to begin the journey. Spanning a decade of work for the label, the program builds off two selections from Brahem’s 1991 debut, Barzakh, beginning with the solo “Ronda.” Being an early piece, it is more overtly expressive of the verve that moves him (compare, for example, the restraint of more recent ensemble pieces like Souvenance). And yet, even at his most animated he is sensitive to silence. He carves his themes like the rosette of his very instrument, leaving behind a design of grand yet intimate beauty through which the timelessness of his music flows.

AB

This album is as much a portrait of Brahem’s supremely gifted associates as of their prodigious leader. In “Parfume de gitane” he is joined by violinist Béchir Selmi and Lassad Hosni on the frame drum, longtime friends whose points and lines magnify one of ECM’s most original voices. There is even “Bou Naouara,” a goblet drum solo by Hosni, to cleanse the palette along the way. “La nuit des yeux” finishes the compilation proper with another solo, in which one can almost feel the night opening its palm and inviting us to dance into places not even the moon can reach.

Before getting to that ending, we are treated to a shuffled assortment of projects, including one of his most outstanding in the form of 1998’s Thimar. In that trio with multi-reedist John Surman and bassist Dave Holland, he created something unforgettable. On “Houdouth,” Surman’s bass clarinet is the rough to Holland’s smooth, and together with Brahem’s lilting undercurrent contributes to three most evocative dimensions. For “Mazad” Surman switches to soprano in a classically shaped tune, played with such intuition by this unprecedented (and unrepeated) combination. Although Brahem composes nearly everything on Vague, “Hulmu Rabia” reveals yet another motivation behind its assemblage: Brahem as composer. For here the oudist is nowhere in sight, but everywhere in sound as Surman and Holland navigate a mournful tune on their own.

From Conte de l’incroyable amour we get two tunes. Brahem’s second ECM album, released a year after his first, furthers his relationship with Hosni and introduces ney virtuoso Kudsi Erguner for “Diversion.” Erguner’s playing is so genuinely sandy that you might as well give up on trying to knock every last grain from your shoes. With a tone that could charm the charmer, he lifts the curtain of exoticism and floods the stage with life, patient and serene. “Le chien sur les genoux de la devineresse” is a third oud solo, which sounds for all like troubadour’s lute before a fluttering plectrum announces more distant roots.

“Sebika” is the only track to make it from 1994’s Madar, pairing him here with Jan Garbarek, in whose presence the oudist becomes a tactile springboard for the Norwegian saxophonist’s parabolic improvisations. There has always been something of the shawm in Garbarek’s tone, and it finds a natural place in such a context. My only minor disappointment is that a personal favorite, Le pas du chat noir, only gets one nod as well. Thankfully, it is such a well-cut gem in Brahem’s discography that any facet of it will do, and “Leïla au pays du caroussel, variation” is a suitably nuanced ambassador. It is the second of his magical combinations: oud, piano (François Couturier), and accordion (Jean-Louis Matinier).

The latter combination was somewhat foreshadowed in “E la nave va,” in which bassist Palle Danielsson, Couturier on piano, and accordionist Richard Gálliano, who barely whispers over the field abandoned by Brahem, introduce a handful of selections from Khomsa. This 1995 album was a major turning point in Brahem’s compositional output, mining old connections while also building new ones. “Comme une absence” is uniquely scored for synthesizer (played by Couturier), Selmi’s violin, and Jean-Marc Larché’s soprano saxophone, with Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen caressing the horizons on either side of their passage. This compilation’s title track also comes from the same album, a duet between Gálliano and Couturier that works a cinematic, Philip Glass-like progression by splicing DNA into discernible scenes. “Claquent les voiles” is also a duet, this time between Brahem and Danielsson, and features strummed chords for a more rustic sound. This one even hints at the atmospheres of Thimar.

Astrakan café, released in 2000, places the oud among Barbaros Erköse’s clarinet and Hosni’s goblet drum on both of the chosen tracks. “Nihawend lunga” is composed by Jamil Bey and arranged by Brahem. Its balancing of light and dark elicits likeminded virtuosity from Brahem. An alternate version of the album’s title track, on the other hand, fronts the two melodizers while the drum barely taps its way beneath.

Brahem is a non-invasive force whose former music has equal footing in our world and another of its own making, whereas now he has abandoned the dreamlike cast of his net and settled into the wonders (and bafflements) of reality. If anything, Vague chronicles the awakening of an artist whose vision has become greater than the sum of its parts and has yet countless paths to cross.

Alternate Vague
Alternate cover

Orchestre National de Jazz: Charmediterranéen (ECM 1828)

Charmediterranéen

Orchestre National de Jazz
Charmediterranéen

Paolo Damiani cello
Anouar Brahem oud
Gianluigi Trovesi piccolo clarinet, alto saxophone
François Jeanneau soprano sax, flute
Thomas de Pourquery soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Jean-Marc Larché soprano, alto and baritone saxophones
Médéric Collignon pocket trumpet, fluegelhorn, voice
Alain Vankenhove trumpet, fluegelhorn
Gianluca Petrella trombone
Didier Havet sousaphone
Régis Huby violin
Olivier Benoit guitar
Paul Rogers double-bass
Christophe Marguet drums
Recorded October 15 & 16, 2001 live in concerts at Scene Nationale de Montbéliard, Palot/L’Allan
Mixed at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assisstant: Gilles Olivesi
Produced by l’Association pour le Jazz en Orchestre National

The seeds for the Orchestre National de Jazz were planted in 1982, when France’s Ministry of Culture set out to promote non-classical forms of music in general, and jazz in particular. The ONJ was at the forefront of this movement and, since its establishment in 1985, has cut across musical divides with utmost professionalism and slick telepathy. In the spirit of developing and exploring fresh repertoire, the ONJ takes on a new director every few years. This album comes from a period under the artistic vision of cellist and double-bassist Paolo Damiani, who spearheaded the ensemble between 2000 and 2002. Although Damiani had previously appeared on ECM as part of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (see Skies Of Europe), his presence here gains frontline recognition. Guesting with him are Tunisian oudist and Anouar Brahem and Italian reed maestro Gianluigi Trovesi.

The album begins with a suite composed around the myth of Orpheus. Told in four chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue, they key to this revisionist narrative lies in its array of psychological insights. The journey into the underworld, for example, feels as if it begins the moment the music exhales with its playful mélange of modern classical touches and eclectic flourishes. Yet rather than a torturous slog through fire and brimstone, we get a swinging gait through the pits of human despair toward the reflected light of Eurydice’s mirror. As much Godard as it is Cocteau, the resolve of this mise-en-scène blisters across a free jazz landscape. Electronic enhancements to the horns render ghostly faces that swirl in and out of focus. Such infusions align this album more closely to Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble than to more conventional outfits. This isn’t your grandmother’s big band.

One suite follows another in the form of “Estramadure.” This three-parter is attuned to overtly compositional impulses, overlaying jagged themes onto smooth backings of winds and brass. Rhythms are tight but spongy, absorbing all that comes their way. Damiani glows in a superb solo turn, making way for a rainy montage cut to ribbons by the sharp relief of Trovesi’s altoism.

Those expecting to hear more of Brahem and Trovesi will either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Still, enthusiasts can bask in the warm light of “Montbéliard Trio,” in which the heroes of the hour spend twenty luxurious minutes in various stages of audibility eliciting gorgeous, elliptical themes toward rapture. Brahem also gilds the title track—which translates to “Mediterranean spell”—with appropriately dream-like patterns. Equally deserving of attention are the contributions of violinist Régis Huby, whose restless technical precision recalls that of Mark Feldman. Huby gives especial vibrancy to this 14 and a half-minute epic and elicits a memorable performance in the first of two iterations of “Argentiera.” The fluid stylings of electric guitarist Olivier Benoit also deserve special note.

All told, this is a consistently detailed and sometimes surprising effort that is sure to reward repeated listening.

Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar (ECM 1915)

Le Voyage de Sahar

Anouar Brahem
Le Voyage de Sahar

Anouar Brahem oud
François Couturier piano
Jean-Louis Matinier accordion
Recorded February 2005, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The music of Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem and his trio with pianist François Couturier and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier is like a magical box of movable type in which the letters form alluring, coherent stories no matter how one arranges them. The printing press this time around may be of similar make to the preceding Le pas du chat noir, but the themes are even more narratively inflected by virtue of the trio’s evolving magnetism. The strength of Brahem’s visual imagination comes strongly to the fore whenever he sings. Although wordless, his voicings on “Les jardins de Ziryab” and “Zarabanda” fold water into sand, painting cycles of intervallic bliss. The chant-like quality of his melodizing buoys Matinier’s soaring exegeses, thus providing an aerial view of the album’s intimate topography. Further whispers abound in the album’s opener, “Sur le fleuve,” which establishes a signature sound of lilting pulse and unseverable braid. As in the gentle persuasions of the title track, Brahem’s suspended steps give his associates just the shade they need to unravel their filmstrips without fear of overexposure. Each of the oudist’s wistful solos is a message in a bottle, Couturier’s chording the foamy currents it rides, and Matinier’s cries those of the recipient standing on a distant shore.

Ensuing atmospheres range in density: from the enigmatic “L’Aube,” as fragile as a mirage, to the restless abandon of “Cordoba,” each samples a different time and space in a sepia-tinted world of streets and blurred visages. Sometimes, the directions are clearer, as in “Eté andalous,” which begins in the mountains and flows down to the mainland. Other times, the music’s robust heartbeat finds balance in meditative poses and parabolic expression. Whether running across the plains of “Nuba”—each dig into the oud’s lower register a puff of kicked-up clay—or drowning in the insomnia of “La chambre,” these are ever-thoughtful alternate realities.

Rounding out the disc are three of Brahem’s most requested tunes, freshly realized. “Vague” and “E la nave va” form a diptych (the former revived from its appearance on Khomsa). With the regularity of a train warning sign, two red eyes alternating winks in the night, it crosses hands until one body is indistinguishable from the other. “Halfaouine” (cf. Astrakan café) is a brief yet luminescent passage of cascading beauty, the swirl of grounds at the bottom of a coffee cup.

The Anouar Brahem Trio wears a skin of gold, sings with a tongue of silver, and moves in gestures invisible. And whatever it chooses to communicate, one can always be sure its language needs no translation.

Anouar Brahem: Le pas du chat noir (ECM 1792)

Le pas du chat noir

Anouar Brahem
Le pas du chat noir

Anouar Brahem oud
François Couturier piano
Jean-Louis Matinier accordion
Recorded July 2001 at Radio DRS, Zürich
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Oud virtuoso and composer Anouar Brahem returns to ECM with an inspired trio. In the company of pianist François Couturier and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, he emerges more as guiding wind than guiding light, forging a quietly original program that feels at once unprecedented and timeless. Brahem’s writing is especially intuitive on this outing, teetering from stream-of-consciousness currents to insightful themes in the steady arc of a summer fan.

Le pas du chat noir brings a desert’s clarity to the night air, exposing an intricate carpet of stars against cloudless sky. The color schemes are simple, but their constellations sway with deep mythology. The opening title track lacquers a table for all the puzzle pieces that follow: raindrops turned images, fragments of a whole. As in the concluding “Déjà la nuit,” its surface trembles ever so slightly from the weight of a nearby spirit’s footsteps. Of this small mountain of twelve pieces, “Leila au pays du carrousel,” which appears once properly and again in variation, is the apex. Its arpeggios tip a quill’s inkwell, pregnant with potential words. Accordion and piano configure every fractal edge, a galaxy in miniature. With their turning comes forgiveness, the unerring stare of divinity that clasps its fate around all life and breathes until it shimmers. A Philip Glass-like ostinato from Couturier lends similar regularity to “Les ailes du Bourak,” forming with the others a caduceus of song. Both tunes reveal a distinct new edge to Brahem’s instrument. Be it an effect of the playing or the engineering, its tone is prominently exposed—all the more wondrous when one considers just how shadowy Brahem’s presence is throughout. He lifts the veil, only to reveal another, this made of refraction, prisms of selfless, creative spark.

Notable also are Brahem’s duets. With Couturier he achieves clearest solidarity in “De tout ton cœur,” while in “Pique-nique à Nagpur” he and Matinier skip through the album cover’s trees, their shadows pulling the sky like an eyelid, neither sleeping nor awake. Couturier casts lighter magic in “C’est ailleurs” (which, with its broad strokes and intimate pairings, says much with little) and reads the ether like a sacred book of Gurdjieff in “Toi qui sait.” Such are the nomadic ways of these travelers, each evoking a staggering range of topographies in his fleet passage. As in the first high notes of “L’arbre qui voit,” their leaves fall in slow motion, blown from settlement to settlement in search of a branch.

All the above being said, I might not recommend this as your first Brahem experience. A cup of tea at the Astrakan Café might be in order before taking a stroll down this leisurely, though undeniably beautiful, thoroughfare.

Anouar Brahem Trio: Astrakan café (ECM 1718)

Astrakan café

Anouar Brahem
Astrakan café

Anouar Brahem oud
Barbaros Erköse clarinet
Lassad Hosni bendir, darbouka
Recorded June 1999, Monastery of St. Gerold, Austria
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem has singlehandedly rewritten the history of his instrument, elevating its status to self-contained orchestra. Like a film director whose camera is a third eye, he paints in moving images—no coincidence, given that much of his music is written for screen and stage. His virtuosity is the pulsing stuff of life and therein lies the power of his music, itself a language beyond the grasp of this meager orthography. Astrakan Café is among his best records, for the solemnity of its nourishment is as attuned to the ether as the two musicians who aid in Brahem’s quest to describe its taste. Turkish clarinetist Barbaros Erköse returns after his invaluable contributions to Conte de l’incroyable amour, intense as ever in the spine-tingling depth of his song. Percussionist and longtime Brahem collaborator Lassad Hosni brings likeminded expertise to the table, adding just the right dash of spice to every tune.

Of those tunes we receive a lavish tale, each chapter a depth-sounding such as only Brahem can elucidate. As a meeting place, the titular café lends itself to intimate conversations and a feeling of community across borders. It introduces us to the protagonists of an epic, cohesive narrative. Erköse’s opening gambit in “Aube rouge à Grozny” cuts straight to the marrow, his notes captured at the height of their emotional density. If this is the defining of a door, the title track is the opening of it. Brahem’s plectrum takes its first dance steps into the morning, the streets fresh with vendor smoke and tourist chatter. Beyond them is “The Mozdok’s Train,” in which the trio comes together in the spirit of travel, not as outsiders but as those whose home is wherever they happen to be: disciples to no one but the steps they have yet to take. Brahem chooses his words carefully. He rallies heroes and villains, spirits and the lowly, in a single breath and submits them to his verbal employ. Little do the passengers know that in the next car over, wedged between a folded shirt and a thumb-printed map, is a box of “Blue Jewels.” Brahem sets the stage as Erköse inlays the clasp that keeps those secrets locked. Hosni jacks up the train’s speed. His are the fingers drumming on the stretched leather of a many-stickered suitcase, the conductor’s practiced hand on burnished controls. A memory assails this assailant, a vision of love long buried until now. It awakens in him the will to change in “Nihawend Lunga,” which moves at a clip so untouchable that its eyes bleed silk, a spider’s web for the prey of “Ashkabad.” Erköse flings cries backward and sideways, writhing in the vision of a life he could have had. And just before the train drowns in the darkness of a tunnel, he jumps from an open door and into the mirage of “Halfaouine.” He awakens to the themes of a passing caravan and clutches his prize even as the “Parfum de Gitane” seeks him out like a desert oasis. He listens to the elder sharing tales in “Khotan,” a solo track from Brahem. Youth returns in “Karakoum” as if time has reversed. This lifts his spirit to the realm of “Astara.” Here feet tread lightly but surely, using mountains as stepping-stones to walk across distant suns. Erköse’s haunting monologue, rendered in hourglass shape, inspires a measured line of flight through the alleys of “Dar es Salaam,” across the waters of “Hija pechref,” and back to the album’s title scene, sipping at the bitter fruits of the earth until these fantasies become apparent to us, ephemeral like the swirl of cream that pales into sepia drink.

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.)

Brahem/Surman/Holland: Thimar (ECM 1641)

Thimar

Thimar

Anouar Brahem oud
John Surman bass clarinet and soprano saxophone
Dave Holland double-bass
Recorded March 13-15, 1997 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The moment’s depth is greater than that of the future.
–Rabia of Basra (714-801)

Oudist Anouar Brahem brings his passion for past and future together in the present recording with reedist John Surman and bassist Dave Holland. Although he has singlehandedly revived the oud as a solo instrument, collaboration has always been at the heart of his craft, whether between himself and the spirit that moves him or with the muses of others. Most of the material on Thimar is Brahem’s and its lack of chording and bar lines in the scores presented Holland and Surman with new and fruitful challenges. One would hardly know it from the fluidity of the session. The album’s title means “fruits” in Arabic and, like those on a tree, the tunes it designates aren’t so much blended as connected by bark, water, and minerals. The press release cites recent musicological research which suggests that jazz may have its roots in the Middle East, for the West African musical traditions it mined were already syntheses of Islamic influences. This is not a “fusion” project. It is an illumination of roots.

Brahem also brings a love of Surman and Holland’s work, introduced to him by way of producer Manfred Eicher, notably through Road To Saint Ives and Angel Song. We might not be wrong, then, in shelving Thimar alongside those ECM gems. The latter of the two is especially ripe for comparison, as it likewise pushes jazz envelopes in an intimate, percussion-less setting. Only here, the added element of Brahem’s keen restraint breeds an enchantment of a different order. Despite his centrality in the program that unfolds, it is some time before he enters the stage. Instead, “Badhra” opens with an adaptive, harmonium-like drone from Holland and Surman’s buttery soprano wafting in the breeze. Holland melts into a solo that rises from the earth, soil made flesh. One might say he treats his bass like an oud, so that when Brahem appears at last it feels like a natural extension—youth to ancestor—and renders Surman’s intonation all the more calligraphic for its contours.

Surman is formidable in this setting, not by means of technical flourish but more so by the movement of his playing. He scribbles masterfully in “Mazad,” bringing an ever-deepening sense of destination to perhaps the most recognizable soprano in recorded sound. That singing reed has hardly sounded better. He further provides a lone interlude in “Waqt,” and one original, “Kernow” (Old English for “Cornwall”), in which his bass clarinet shadowdances with oud.

Holland’s contributions are equally profound. His walking lines in “Kashf” inspire a unified sermon from the trio and plunk like amplified raindrops from leaf to leaf in “Houdouth.” He is an accommodating and adaptable soul, especially in “Talwin,” where his drum-like sensibilities bring rhythmic drive (as they did in Angel Song) to the exchanges swirling around him.

For all the highs and lows, Brahem remains the ultimate truth of these proceedings, our guide on a journey he defines as he goes along. The heart-to-heart tunefulness of “Uns” pins the album’s ethos on its sleeve, evoking villages and bustling metropolises alike. In “Qurb” he adds metallic taste to Holland’s protracted Brew and sings into the tunnel. His “Al Hizam Al Dhahbi,” with its fluid doublings and harmonies, is the session’s crown, a memory in the making. There is a locomotive circuitry in his writing that runs all the way through “Hulmu Rabia” (Rabia’s Dream), signing off elegiacally with a nod to the first female mystic of Islam.

Thimar holds a coveted place in my listening life, for it was my first time hearing each of its three musicians. Separately, they are powerhouses of influence in their respective fields. Together, they are like the cover photograph: Holland the silhouetted land against Surman’s gradated sky, and Brahem the strings hatching their meeting at dusk.