Oud-master Anouar Brahem's instantly intoxicating, Blue Maqams, caps off a truly remarkable year for ECM Records. Just think, the label's release schedule this year included essential recordings by Benedikt Jahnel Trio's The Invariant, Django Bates' breakthrough The Study of Touch, Colin Vallon Trio's Danse, Vijay Iyer Sextet's Far From Over, and Gary Peacock's Tangents, all of them at once mysterious, challenging, and ultimately rewarding upon each listen.
A magam defines traditional Arab musical phrases, tones, notes and melodies but eschews control of rhythm, making all these blue maqams, these tightly composed universes, light years of inspiration and interpretation for Brahem's three daring cohorts, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and the mischievous creativity of pianist Bates. They deliver non-stop.
Startling in mood, movement, clarity, and intent, "Opening Day" unwinds Blue Maqams from an ancient space, a too-near distant limbo akin to The Doors "The End," revealing its hues slowly. Brahem with the dark sketches, DeJohnette working his cymbals as only DeJohnette can, with the bell-like tones of an old monk's gong, and Bates, serving as both wingman and foil, brings his curious, humorous lyricism and bold style into play on this and all succeeding tracks. "La Nuit" is an exquisite beauty, Holland setting free his partners to search beyond their parameters. Written for Jan Garberek in 1992, Brahem re-imagines "Bahia" as trio only. "Bom Dia Rio" is a full blown groove, driven by the old master rhythm section and Bates' ceaseless imagination. There's even some rock n roll eight minutes into "Unexpected Outcome" as the moody roll fades back and DeJohnette kicks in with the beat. The elegant piano/oud duet, "The Recovered Road to Alsham" is just that. Immensely captivating.
Opening Day; La Nuit; Blue Maqams; Bahia; La Passante; Bom Dia Rio; Persepoli's Mirage; The Recovered Road to Al-Sham; Unexpected Outcome.
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