What used to be the Indian long-necked lute sitar in its time, among others for the Beatles, today is the African lute, the oud for jazz. One of its masters is the Tunisian Anouar Brahem, who has recorded quite a few albums on the ECM label with such renowned musicians as saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and accordionist Richard Galliano. The album Blue Maqams, recorded in the Avatar Studio, New York in May of this year, was recently released on this same label in cooperation with bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJonette and last but not least pianist Django Bates. Without wanting to do wrong to the other musicians on this album, who deliver all first-class work, especially the inclusion of Django Bates has proven to be a very happy grip, Oud and piano led in unison weave into a kind of super-Oud, while these two instruments improvising separately splendidly rub against each other.
And that can be heard on Blue Maqams. Opening Day: After a softly flowing, contemplative introduction intoned by Oud and Bass alone, the contours of the improvised, North African-sounding melody become sharper as the percussion is added, until the piano intervenes getting more and more prominent with its own improvisation line, and spins on the melody improvisation in unison with the Oud, before diverging to follow its own line, finally fading away to the end the title again in unison with the Oud. The whole breathes southern Mediterranean air and smells of Mediterranean shrub heath, the Garrigue. La nuit: Starting without melody, the piano exudes nocturnal mood, into which the oud tentatively weaves remains of the day’s melody, which are picked up by the piano and completed in duet and antiphony together with the Oud and varied with an impulse appearing from nowhere to finally ebbing away. Halfway through the ten-minute title, the percussion only now getting active motivates the piano, accompanied by the bass, to noticeably gain momentum when embarking on the new day. Blue Maqams: This is the central solo performance for the Oud commented only at the beginning and the end by the piano, drums and bass. It follows the classical structure of a maqam, which sounds typically Arabic to Western ears due to the heptatonic scale, and which, with its characteristic movement sequence of melodies and caesuras and its artful improvisations, requires a true master, as Anouar Brahem. Bahia: John Coltrane already discovered this Brazilian dance on the eponymous album for jazz. Together with Dave Holland and Jack DeJonette, brilliantly led by Anouar Brahem, the Bahia develops its elemental danciong force much closer to the Brazilian original than to pure jazz. Persepolis Mirage: Not only, but above all here, it becomes clear that the bass fundamentals provided by Dave Holland, together with his commentary on the improvisations of his fellow musicians, which is reflected in ingenious riffs, are essential for the success of this album. A pinnacle of pianistic sophistication can be found on The Recovered Road To Al-Sham. Unexpected Outcome: It is no less than a great pleasure to experience how Jack DeJonette masterfully uses the cymbal, in order, as already in La nuit, to credibly create the perfect mood to match the melody of the title and its improvisations.
Once again, ECM's Manfred Eichner, the producer of this album, managed to optimally capture the sound, this time by the men of the Avatar Studio, primarily James A. Farber.
Anouar Brahem, oud
Django Bates, piano
Dave Holland, double bass
Jack DeJohnette, drums