Whenever I would listen to Sid Smith’s Podcasts from the Yellow Room, I would imagine that a spider was creeping underneath my arm and giving me goose bumps, not just from discovering reissues, but also artists and bands both old and new. And now, discovering the ECM Records catalogue dating back to its launch in 1969, I’ve listened to artists including Terje Rypdal, Danish String Quartet, Gary Peacock Trio, and Anouar Brahem; it has been quite an experience to hear what I was missing.
Tunisian musician Anouar Brahem has been a part of the ECM label since 1989, his debut album, Barzakh, being released in 1991. He has since issued ten studio albums up to 2014 and this year released his eleventh for the label, entitled Blue Maqams, the Arabic word ‘Maqam’ meaning the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, a technique of improvisation that defines the pitches, patterns, and development of a piece.
Anouar brings along some help, including drummer Jack DeJohnette, pianist Django Bates, and string bassist Dave Holland, Holland and Brahem having worked together on the 1997 album Thimar with saxophonist John Surman. Listening to Blue Maqams, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself being at the sessions where the album was recorded in May of this year at Avatar Studios in New York City, in awe watching these four masters creating magic that combines World Music and Jazz.
In the first minute and fifty-seconds of Bahia, Anouar uses his oud to begin a middle-eastern introduction, and I can only imagine that he’s adding some vocalisations. It suddenly changes into a flamenco style as he and Holland share a beautiful tango-esque vibe, resembling the styles of Ottmar Liebert and the arrangement of Remo Giazotto. Brahem, Holland, and DeJohnette work together in the midsection to build up the intensity until the last two minutes of the composition. With La Passante (The Walking Girl), Bates’ piano is like entering an abandoned house, his notes reminding of what it was in the past, not the pile of rubble that it has become.
On first track Opening Day, when Anouar’s oud and Holland’s bass come in it is quite interesting how the first notes are as if you’re walking into the hottest part of the Sahara Desert. Bates adds concerto-like piano as he and Anouar build melodic structures between them.
In La Nuit (The Night), Bates and Brahem also duet, bringing the listener into the various themes that they create, sometimes moody, heading towards a door to which DeJohnette and Holland hold the key, as if the rhythm section is leading the way to some creative improvisations, Holland’s bass going even further in the last minute of the piece.
Now I’m very new to Anouar Brahem’s music and Blue Maqams is a mind-blowing release, he, Jack, Dave, and Django working well together as a team. After a few listens I can say that I need to check out what I’ve been missing from Anouar’s music and Blue Maqams is just the starter.
01. Opening Day (7:01)
02. La Nuit (10:28)
03. Blue Maqams (8:41)
04. Bahia (8:45)
05. La Passante (4:05)
06. Bom Dia Rio (9:23)
07. Persepolis’s Mirage (8:06)
08. The Recovered Road To Al-Sham (9:26)
09. Unexpected Outcome (10:59)
Total Time – 76:56
Anouar Brahem – Oud
Dave Holland – Double Bass
Jack DeJohnette – Drums
Django Bates – Piano
Record Label: ECM Records
Catalogue: ECM 2580
Date of Release: 13th October 2017