Blue Maqams
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Blue Maqams

Anouar Brahem, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Django Bates

Recorded in New York’s Avatar Studios in May 2017 and produced by Manfred Eicher, Blue Maqams brings Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem together with three brilliant improvisers. For Anouar Brahem and Dave Holland the album marks a reunion: they first collaborated 20 years ago on the very widely-acclaimed Thimar album.

Brahem meets Jack DeJohnette for the first time here, but Holland and DeJohnette have been frequent musical partners over the last half-century beginning with ground-breaking work with Miles Davis - their collaborations are legendary. British pianist Django Bates also rises superbly to the challenge of Brahem’s compositions. And Anouar in turn is inspired to some of his most outgoing playing.

Review

Blue Maqams is the thirteenth release on ECM for Tunisian oud-master/composer Anouar Brahem. Brahem has achieved great success for the label with his ability as a crossover artist, taking his audience way beyond the jazz scene. His early career was spent creating music for films and stage; his mastery of mood and atmosphere is in abundance here. Is it jazz, classical, North-African folk music, or a fusion of all three?

Brahem’s mission statement was to take the oud out of its role as an accompaniment to singers, putting it firmly within a solo context. Here, Brahem has recruited one of the great rhythm sections of our time: Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, with wild card, British piano player Django Bates. Bates’ playing fits like a glove; his solos are a pleasure to listen to, particularly on the atmospheric opening tracks. ‘Maqams’ refers to the Arab music system: the sound here is a North-African Kind of Blue. By track four, ‘Baha’, Brahem is ready to step out and take the lead with some very distinctive riffing. It recalls classic rock riffs within an acoustic oud context. ‘La Passante’ has an Erik Satie minimalist feel; Bates takes over before Brahem punctuates with some very melancholic notes, creating one of the album standouts. The pace picks up around track six with the Latin-flavoured ‘Bom Dia Rio’, giving Holland a solo.

Sound-wise this recording is perfect. Avatar Studios (former rock-star recording powerhouse for the likes of Bowie, Madonna, Roxy Music) is reputedly one of the best acoustic spaces around and has been used extensively for reverb sampling. Every cymbal brush, every note, from this small acoustic combo is captured. Brahem’s compositions – and the improvisations of all musicians involved – make this a multi-layered beauty.


Paul Barr is a music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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