Blue Maqams by Anouar Brahem
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.