Over the past 15 years, Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem has assembled a relatively small but profound body of work.
A skilled improviser who refuses to be part of the historical authenticity argument, Brahem works from the same trio setting that performed on Le Pas du Chat Noir in 2002, with pianist François Couturier and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. The dialogue between these players is, despite the sparseness of the music and the considerable space employed, intense. The deep listening necessary in the improvised sections allows for a natural flow of ideas to emerge from silence.
The compositions themselves are skeletal, with repeating, slowly evolving vamps and lyric lines. They offer, on the surface, a contemplative approach, and indeed can be heard that way. However, when dynamics, timbre, and chromatics are listened for, what takes place is rather astonishing. Each player walks to the middle of a composition, steps back and reenters after ideas by the others are introduced, producing a kind of organic improvisation seldom heard. This is not to say that the most structured works here, such as "Vague/E la Nave Va," aren't full of meditative delight as well.
They are, and there are vast spaces into which the listener can enter and disappear for a while -- not so much to drift and dream as to be absorbed in their hypnotic and repetitive beauty. "Les Jardins de Ziryab" begins with Matinier's accordion, which is answered by the oud and Brahem's voice, accompanying them both. It unfolds from the center out. "Le Chambre, Var." begins, for this ensemble, at a trot. Couturier's chord voicing and Brahem's percussive approach create a winding musical narrative that Matinier's accordion underscores rhythmically. The keyboard and air pulse create a terrain where intricate melodic lines come out of modal and chromatic tensions.
Ultimately, Brahem has given listeners another of his wondrous offerings, full of deceptively simple compositions that open into a secret world, one where beauty is so present that it is nearly unapproachable, and it is up to the listener to fill in the spaces offered them by this remarkable trio.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
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