Anouar Brahem: Khomsa (ECM 1561)

Anouar Brahem
Khomsa

Anouar Brahem oud
Richard Galliano accordion
François Couturier piano, synthesizer
Jean-Marc Larché soprano saxophone
Béchir Selmi violin
Palle Danielsson double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded September 1994 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Anouar Brahem’s third leader date for ECM explores the oud player’s incidental music for Tunisian film and theatre as interpreted by a shifting nexus of musicians, new and old alike. His compositional side takes precedence this time around, for it is accordionist Richard Galliano who lights the foreground with “Comme un depart” and hardly recedes until “Des rayons et des ombres,” the latter a superbly jazzy romp with Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. Bassist and drummer, respectively, add buoyancy to “E la nave va” and “Aïn ghazel,” culminating in the shadow of Jean-Marc Larché’s soprano for the title track. Galliano continues to somersault through the airspace of “Souffle un vent de sable.” Only here does the oud awaken, as if from long hibernation, its lips dry and puckered for the quench of a distant rain. Brahem deepens the sincerity of his instrument in “L’infini jour” with a twang that aches from the power of re-creation. He and Galliano flirt with the same watery surface in “Sur l’infini bleu,” the first of a handful of duets that also includes the animated “Claquent les voiles” (Brahem/Danielsson). “Vague” and its “Nouvelle” counterpart blossom with a piano that recalls the opening section of Philip Glass’s Glassworks, carrying over into the ensemble-oriented folktale of “Seule.” Larché questions the night in “Un sentier d’alliance,” where he is answered by the sparkling reflections of François Couturier’s pianism, only to be picked up by violin in “Comme une absence” before sliding into blissful self-awareness.

Khomsa is an inspired meeting, each musician highlighting a different curl of Brahem’s calligraphic art. This may not be his most consistent effort, but I discourage you from passing it up.

Garbarek/Brahem/Hussain: Madar (ECM 1515)

Madar

Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Anouar Brahem oud
Ustad Shaukat Hussain tabla
Recorded August 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Following in the footsteps of Ragas and Sagas, which found Jan Garbarek in the seemingly unlikely company of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan to uplifting effect, the Norwegian saxophonist continued to expand his horizons with Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem and tablaist Ustad Shaukat Hussain on Madar. The three bond naturally in the lengthy “Sull lull,” a nearly 17-minute prayer of keen and sensible interaction for which Hussain brings constant airflow and foils Garbarek’s chameleonic talents superbly. It is one of two tracks based on folk melodies of Garbarek’s native land. The other is the saxophone/oud duet “Joron.” Madar serves in this vein as an internal conversation between the two instruments, their sounds speaking to one another like rocks from a river’s touch. Together they become a pair of hands etching stories into a stretch of hide, twisting incantations until they bleed light (“Sebika”) and dark (“Ramy”). As they continue to circle overhead, surveying a landscape of withering sin, they bring out something unknown in one another.

Despite the loveliness of these interactions, the album works best in solitary. Brahem’s contemplative solo, “Bahia,” treks over twilit mountains with aching footsteps, carrying us as if by palanquin into a vale of lost intentions. The wind of his percussiveness shakes the boughs of leafless trees and sends their dead seeds clicking to the ground like sand against a window. And in the rhythmic cast of “Jaw,” Hussain emotes lifetimes in a single beat of his tabla, thus offering some intensely lucid moments. He returns to the fold in “Qaws,” giving voice to those waiting eyes at last with solid excitement. An odd piano “Epilogue” (sounding like a chord outline for a studio track left behind) leads us out.

A word to the wise: Garbarek reaches some of his most piquant levels ever here, so intense that you may find yourself needing to lower the volume at peak moments. This may antagonize some, but in the end couldn’t we all do with a little awakening?

Anouar Brahem: Conte de l’incroyable amour (ECM 1457)

 

Anouar Brahem
Conte de l’incroyable amour

Anouar Brahem oud
Barbaros Erköse clarinet
Kudsi Erguner ney
Lassad Hosni bendir, darbouka
Recorded October 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a memorable ECM debut with Barzakh, Anouar Brahem recorded this even more memorable sophomore effort one year later. Carrying over percussionist Lassad Hosni, Brahem welcomes Turkish musicians Kudsi Erguner on ney and Barbaros Erköse on clarinet. Erköse, a gypsy music specialist, adds rich colors to an already dense palette, weaving tethers that pull us into tender worlds. His duets with Erguner (“Etincelles” and “Peshrev Hidjaz Homayoun”) stand out as some of the album’s most flowing. The title track brings the patter of clay drums, weaving a gorgeous ney into our vision. (The melodies and rhythms here put this listener immediately in mind of the song “I Love You” from Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s album One Truth.) Captivating. Erguner shines again in “Diversion.” Slaloming through every drummed pillar with the conviction of a bird in search of prey and yet with the delicacy of an angel avoiding such violence, he brings a sense of history to every lilting gesture. “Nayzak” revives the clarinet amid oud and drums for a stunning taste of mountains and the plains. The album’s meat, though, comes in Brahem’s unaccompanied storytelling. From the dawn chorus of “L’oiseau de bois” and invigorating virtuosity of “Battements,” through the tender air “Le chien sur les genoux de la devineresse,” and on to “Epilogue,” there is unimaginable depth of yearning in every twang and strum.

This album is all about the composition, stripped to the barest essentials of melodic craft and burrowing straight into the marrow of our past lives. One of Brahem’s best to date.

Anouar Brahem: Barzakh (ECM 1432)

Anouar Brahem
Barzakh

Anouar Brahem oud
Béchir Selmi violin
Lassad Hosni percussion
Recorded September 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This album marks the beginning of an ongoing and fruitful relationship between Tunisian oud master/composer Anouar Brahem and the ECM label. From the exhilarating solo “Raf Raf,” we know we are in the presence of someone whose sense of touch, rhythm, melody, and atmosphere speaks straight to the heart from the mind of a visionary. This first track puts us into a time and place where only melody speaks, and the sands of time flow like blood in an infinitely chambered heart. The title track introduces the violin of Béchir Selmi, whose tender ribbons bind volumes. Brahem unfurls a ponderous firmament for which Selmi strings the clouds together in a necklace—a smile arcing across some divine collarbone. So begins a mournful, loving diatribe of sand and air. The synergy of this trio is honed to a golden edge in “Parfum De Gitane,” which exemplifies the album’s organic progression from soliloquy to chorus, and which is couched by two solo excursions from percussionist Lassad Hosni. These float us down the river of “Kerkenah,” which again spreads its warmth wide.

A tapestry of colors fills out the album, including the lullaby-like “Sadir” and “Hou,” as well as the fresh energies of “Ronda” and “Sarandib.” Brahem shines most, however, in the solo pieces, of which “La Nuit Des Yeux” is an incredibly programmatic example that works at the level of fantasy. And in “Le Belvédère Assiége” we find in the intimate confines of that hollow body a shelter for all of us, where the sustenance of “Qaf” is given on a sonic platter as ephemeral as the drink that nurtures us from its plane.

Barzakh balances itself on the fulcrum of tradition, in the process bidding us to follow the lessons of the every day.