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Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar

John Kelman By

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Anouar Brahem's last international release, Le Pas du Chat Noir (ECM, 2002), was something of a watershed for the Tunisian oudist. Earlier records like Khomsa (ECM, 1995) and Thimar (ECM, 1998) found him exploring the nexus between traditional Middle Eastern harmonies and a more open-minded improvisational approach with artists like reed player John Surman, bassists Dave Holland and Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. But Le Pas du Chat Noir placed a stronger emphasis on composition and influences that went well beyond Brahem's own ethnic roots.

Le Voyage de Sahar reunites Brahem with accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier—known to ECM fans for his work with clarinetist Louis Sclavis—and pianist François Couturier, who also participated on Khomsa. A logical extension of Le Pas du Chat Noir, this release is consequently more evolutionary than revolutionary. But if the apparent simplicity and almost naïve beauty of the trio's first disc was redolent of classical composers like Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, Le Voyage de Sahar finds Brahem's pen more confidently his own, and the trio's interplay even more subtle than before.

Brahem digs into his existing body of work, revisiting "Vague and "E La Nave Va from Khomsa. Here Couturier introduces the melancholy changes of "Vague at a slightly faster pace, contrasting with Richard Galliano's approach, which set the stage for the accordion/piano duet. "E La Nave Va, another bittersweet minor key piece, is a more direct segue. And while Danielsson was the primary voice on Khomsa, Brahem shares the lead with Matinier before moving into a dramatic yet understated solo.

Brahem also demonstrates how context can completely alter a tune's complexion. "Halfaouine —originally released on Astrakan Café (ECM, 2000) with Brahem's more overtly ethnic working trio—changes from a vehicle for improvisation to a mournful and somehow more meaningful miniature.

The most vivid characteristics of this trio are its more elusive approach to improvisation and the way in which the roles of melody, harmony and rhythm are seamlessly and almost imperceptibly interchanged. Unconventional instrumental groupings like the reeds and double percussion on Charles Lloyd's Sangam (ECM, 2006) are becoming more common these days, and the potential for oud, accordion and piano to each take on any role lends remarkable fluidity to Brahem's arrangements. Though there are clear moments of individual soloing—as is the case with Matinier's lithe solo on the dramatic two-chord vamp of "Zarabanda —elsewhere the line between form and freedom is more cleverly blurred.

Despite the cosmopolitan approach of Le Voyage de Sahar, Brahem's ethnic roots are never far from the surface. But this unorthodox instrumentation opens his music up more than ever before. Brahem's earliest recordings revealed him as a virtuoso player with an ear for strong melody. By now Brahem has nothing left to prove, and Le Voyage de Sahar is an album where the music takes complete precedence, the players serving as selfless conduits of collective interaction.

Track Listing: Sur le fleuve; Le Voyage de Sahar; L'Aube; Vague / E la nave va; Les Jardins de Ziryab; Nuba; La Chambre; Córdoba; Halfaouine; La Chambre Var.; Zarabanda; Été Andalous; Vague Var.

Personnel: Anouar Brahem: oud; François Couturier: piano; Jean-Louis Matinier: accordion.

Title: Le Voyage De Sahar | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records

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