Tag Archives: oud

Breathtaking: Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem

There is a feeling in the music of Anouar Brahem of being wrapped up and warm.  The oud, with its rubbery pluckings and mellow and honeyed tones seems to blend perfectly with the clarinet which glides and slides from depth to depth.  You may not have travelled this way before, to Djibouti or Beirut, but you are safe. And you feel it.

Astounding is a reference, in the name of this album, to a woman’s eyes.  But really it is a valid a description of the playing and musical vision of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem. He is usually placed in the very front lines of the those who play this old Arabian lute instrument; in his rich music and with his wonderfully selected band members, he has moved the instrument forward with grace and nuance.

Albums as perfect as this appear rarely. Tunisian oud maestro Brahem has been one of ECM’s most-revered artists for years, pioneering a superior kind of east-west fusion (although that makes it sound less interesting than it is).

But this quartet recording beats anything I’ve heard from him yet. Dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the album’s eight originals trace a continuous arabesque, wind and strings intertwining against a trance-like rhythmic pulse, which at times gets heavy enough to recall Massive Attack’s remix of Nusrat. (The Independent)

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

Track Listing:

Al Birwa

Dance With Waves

For No Apparent Reason

Galilee Mon Amour

Stopover At Djibouti

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

The Lover Of Beirut

Waking State

Al Andalusia: Amina Alaoui

Amina Aloui

Amina Alaoui

What sort of music is this? It gets rave reviews in jazz journals and other high brow music publications.  But it is not like any jazz I’ve heard.  It is not classical either, though the way in which the ever-so earnest ECM label markets their music, you’d think it was the equivalent of Mozart or Brahms.


I don’t know what label to attach to this wonderful disc. Which is a good ting really because labels are thin and can be ripped off even by a ten year old. This music simply transcends. It rises above all labels and names and styles. It simply exists. There is no need to pin it down to any place or instance.  It just is.


The centerpoint around which this record revolves is the voice of Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui.  Born in Fez in 1964, Alaoui studied Andalusian music which has its roots in the Iberian peninsula and North Africa.  She has also studied western classical music and came to the attention of the wider world with another ECM record Siwan.


When I listen to this music my spirit soars in a similar way as when I listen to Kishori Amonkar and Lusine Zakarian. Floating is the only way I can describe the feeling. Perhaps free-falling but, without fear.


If you’re interested here is a review by All About Jazz.

Arco Iris

Track Listing:

01 Hado

02 Búscate en mí

03 Fado Al-Mu’tamid

04 Flor de nieve

05 Oh Andaluces

06 Ya laylo layl

07 Fado menor

08 Búscate en mí, var.

09 Moradía

10 Las Morillas de Jaén

11 Que faré

12 Arco Iris




The music of empty moments: Anouar Brahem

ca dance

This record reminds me of a winter afternoon in Tashkent.  Like all grand Soviet-built cities, modern Tashkent (there has been a urban community living around the place for many many centuries) is designed to a familiar and similar urban plan.  Yes, there are the heavily constructed concrete buildings that impose themselves on the all sides. And there are the broad boulevards and streets that make it easy for tanks to roll into place when deemed necessary.


But one of the most pleasant aspects of Central Asian (perhaps most former Soviet) cities is  the amount of space given over to parks and green walking areas. Near the gravitational center of the city you’ll find massive open spaces planted with lots of shade and fruit trees. In summer kids tumble on the grass and splash in the fountain if its working. Couples sit on a blanket eating melons and apricots and roasting goat meat kebabs. In winter skaters are on the ice and babuskhas sell hot chestnuts.  Tashkent doesn’t often get snow so on sunny winter days little lean-tos of plastic sheeting pop up as impromptu karaoke stalls along the wide concrete paths that criss-cross the garden.

Timur Park, Tashkent

I visited Tashkent regularly as a transit point to Europe or Asia. And one particular visit stands out in my mind with vivid clarity.  It was a mid-winter afternoon.  The sky was clear and coloured pale blue. The sun was bright but not very strong.  You felt the nip of cold on your knuckles all the time.  My wife and had time to kill. We found a park, named after Timur Lang (Tamerlane), I think.  Though it was a nice day, the place seemed almost entirely deserted.  We ambled around the walkways, looking for nothing in particular in no particular hurry.


The karoke stalls were abandoned. They would be full in a few hours though, as Tashkentis seemed to believe singing was especially fun after dark.  A feeling of general emptiness had settled on the garden. Nothing moved very quickly, if at all.  Even the branches were empty of leaves. Once in a while a stiff branch scraped up against another and a whispered crack sounded. There was no music playing and I don’t recall hearing the whoosh of the traffic.


For those moments we walked as if in a bubble. Just the quiet shuffle of our feet and breathing kept us company.  It was a gorgeous time and something not quite of this world.


When I hear Anouar Brahems record Astrakan Cafe I’m immediately taken back to that silent Central Asian walk.  With his oud and the clarinet and drum of his Turkish friends, he recreates that time and place.  This is the mysterious allure of music.  Sounds replicate and recreate visions and sensations. The record is inspired, of course, by the sounds and cultural atmosphere of Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus’.  Regions of the world where people  are in no rush to finish up at the cafe and where dances can combust suddenly into existence on the echo of distant music.


Like all of Brahem’s music this is moody, evocative and dynamic stuff. As cigarette smoke, it sways this way and loops in around itself, never tracing the exact pattern twice but always hanging within reach. The oud, more than any other instrument, is able to  touch those mellow tones that define those places off the beaten track on an off day.  The strings vibrate like honey when plucked and seem to weep real tears.


I only wish I could be sitting in a cafe in Mozdok  sipping a muddy coffee as I listened again and again to his music.













Track Listing:

01 Aube Rouge À Grozny

02 Astrakan Café (1)

03 The Mozdok’s Train

04 Blue Jewels

05 Nihawend Lunga

06 Ashkabad

07 Halfaouine

08 Parfum De Gitane

09 Khotan

10 Karakoum

11 Astara

12 Dar Es Salam

13 Hijaz Pechref

14 Astrakan Café (2)



Dromedary of Unusual Hue: Rabih Abou Khalil

A camel of Blue

A camel of Blue

My colleague, political advisor, sports-baiter and friend, Phillip Walker introduced me to the music of Rabih Abou-Khalil, the Lebanese master oud player who is also an accomplished composer and arranger of jazz music. And a bringer together of equally talented musicians from all around the world to make music.

Born and raised in the cosmopolitan climate of Beirut in the sixties and seventies,Rabih Abou-Khalil leaned to play the oud, the Arabian short-necked lute, at the age of four. In the Arab world this instrument is as popular as the guitar or the piano in the West and is the composer’s instrument par excellence. The Lebanese civil war forced hirn to leave his country in 1978 to study dassical flute in the German city of Munich, where he was tutored at the Munich Academy of Music by Walther Theurer. The analytical preoccupation with the European classical tradition enabled him to grasp Arabic music from a further, theoretical position, opening his eyes to the possibility of operating simultaneously within musically divergent systems. Whereas Arab instrumentalists were content to imitate human voice techniques, Abou-Khalil set out to explore new ways of playing his instrument. Music critics have even recommended his accomplished technique as a “study for jazz guitarists”; his ballads, on the other hand, rekindle memories of the poetic dawn of Arabian culture, without ever sounding even remotely traditionalistic.

Rabih Abou-Khalil has asserted himself in the avant-garde as a composer as well as an instrumentalist. This is not just because he is ahead of his time – but because he also questions what others might pursue without further reflection. With his original composing technique, his unconstrained, yet daring approach to dassical Arabic music, he has found a musical language entirely his own. Commissioned by the Südwesrfunk (Southwest German Radio), Abou-Khalil wrote two unusual compositions for string quartet in his own rhythmically and melodically charged style. The maiden performance with the Kronos String Quartet was the highlight at the Stuttgart Jazz Summit in 1992. On his CD, “Arabian Waltz”, with the Balanescu String Quartet he successfully integrated the string quartet – for centuries the domain of European classical music – into his musical language.

What superficially appears to be a chance encounter between opposing instruments and a seemingly antagonistic dash of talents from different musical worlds is in fact the result of a well pondered upon concept. Under Abou-Khalil’s guidance these undeniable differences by no means descend into Babylonian confusion. On the contrary, the cosmopolizan musicians from different cultural backgrounds draw inspiration from their shared intuitive understanding of the serious challenge they face in interpreting Abou-Khalil’s music. The intellectual and emotional identification with these compositions unleashes charges of enthusiasm in each of the players, inciting new heights of musical mastery. Yet the temptation of individual one-upmanship is never as strong as the collective innovative endeavor and exploration into uncharted terrain. The highly varied works by Abou-Khalil – all nonetheless derived from this very elixir – now stand in their own right, extending so far beyond convention that they somehow elude all fixed categories. Abou-Khalil’s music thrives on creative encounters and not on exoticism. From a combination of diverse cultural elements something very personal and coherent emerges. Thus it would be fruitless ro mull over descriptions such as Orient or Occident, jazz, world music or classical.

Rabih Abou Khalil

Rabih Abou Khalil

Commissioned by the BBC Concert Orchestra to write music for orchestra, Abou-Khalil wrote works that were performed in London and Chichester. For another project for the German city of Duisburg he chose ro collaborate wim the Ensemble Modern, one of the most renowned orchestras specializing in contemporary music. “While working with Rabih Abou-Khalil, I was starkly reminded of a saying by Herbert von Karajan: ‘Do not pIay the bar along with the music, play across the measure’.” That was how Dietmar Wiesner, the flute player of the Ensemble Modem, summed up his impressions from the rehearsals: “Unbelievably fine, irregular rhythms, masterfully formed into melodic chains that remain in a floating condition, never setting to land, and thus reaching a high level of charm that relentlessly pulls the listener imo its magic.” (http://www.enjarecords.com/bio.php?artist=Rabih%20Abou-Khalil)

Blue Camel is the pinnacle to date of Lebanese oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil‘s achievement as a jazzman. In both mood and scope, it can almost be characterized as a new Kind of Blue. Both tense and reflective, it is perfect for listening after midnight. Abou-Khalil brings back Charlie Mariano on alto sax and Kenny Wheeler on flügelhorn and trumpet, and they generally alternate solos with Abou-Khalilhimself. Rounding out the roster is Steve Swallow on bass, Milton Cardona on congos, Nabil Khaiat on frame drums, and Ramesh Shotham on South Indian drums and percussion. They form a tight ensemble and play comfortably with each other. The album opens with “Sahara,” which contains both one of Abou-Khalil‘s tunes, a mesmerizing melody that could be either Arabic or jazz, and one of Abou-Khalil‘s best solos, a well-defined interlude that delightfully features the unique timbre of the oud. “Tsarka” begins with a fast break on the oud that turns out to be one of the two motifs on which everything is built. After it is elaborated for a few bars, the oud comes back with another building block. Then we get some stunning improvisations, especially from Abou-Khalil. “Ziriab” opens with a trumpet solo in which Kenny Wheeler tests the compass of his instrument, backed up with some atmospheric sounds from the udu drum; then Abou-Khalil enters with another great tune for everyone to build on. The title track is nothing but fun. Seductive percussion ushers in Wheeler and Mariano playing in unison for a tune that is somewhere between Duke Ellington and the court of Baghdad. As the percussion bubbles along, Milton Cardona‘s congos adding a Latin flavor to the proceedings, Abou-Khalil steps up with a very fast and rhythmic, if not very tuneful, solo. Midway through the track, Mariano blisters the paint with a screeching sax workout that bridges the Arabic and the Latin, while remaining all the while pure jazz. Even Steve Swallow gets a chance to feature his bass after which the ensemble brings it together and takes it home. Some of the other tracks are not as good as the ones mentioned above, but they are all listenable and very atmospheric. The aptly named “A Night in the Mountains” is a slow, thoughtful walk, perfect for silent contemplation. The album ends with “Beirut,” named for the Lebanese city torn by civil war from which Abou-Khalil had to flee many years ago. The track begins with a quiet oud solo and then builds to something more chaotic and striving. Blue Camel may not be a perfect album, but it demonstrates better than any other that a fusion between jazz and a musical form from another culture is possible and can work to the advantage of both. Plus, it’s just great listening.  (AMG)

Blue Camel

Track Listing:

01. Sahara

02. Tsarka

03. Ziriab

04. Blue Camel

05. On Time

06. A Night in the Mountains

07. Rabou Abou Kabou

08. Beirut