Saturday, March 23, 2013

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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 withMatinier'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.


For the first time under the direction of a foreigner, Paolo Damiani, the French orchestra explores themes related to the Mediterranean area. With the help of special guests Anouar Brahem and Gianluigi Trovesi, the Italian musical director offers musical landscapes that encompass the various aspects of the region. The album opens with a suite penned by Trovesi, which digs deep into the Italian musical tradition, but also incorporates more recent influences from the Middle East and Africa. With the brass instruments in the forefront, it is definitely the most colorful and animated segment of the disc. François Jeanneau takes the relay with another suite that brings the music back into jazz territory while paying tribute to the long French tradition of jazz violin. The saxophonist successfully blends the saxophones with the string and brass sections, producing a unique and rich texture. Brahem's two-part composition "Artefact" slows down the pace and sets a more reflective mood. Not surprisingly, the music has a strong Middle Eastern flavor. Ironically, the musical director's contributions featured at the end of the program pale in comparison and sound somewhat conventional. The pace is similar to Brahem's piece, which might suggest that the music could have been better sequenced. "Argentiera" features some thoughtful playing, but the title track is lackluster save for a forceful solo by Trovesi. This is a disappointment for an otherwise very enjoyable outing adequately dominated by the voice of the soprano saxophone.


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