Austrian reed man Wolfgang Puschnig, Tunisian oud player and vocalist Dhafer Youssef, and Indian tabla master Jatinder Thakur met in Puschnig's home base of Vienna at the beginning of the '90s, but they did not record as a trio until last year. These three tracks with special guests were recorded in 1997 and have just been released. Odem, their debut, is an intimate and relaxed meeting of three distinct musical languages that find a convincing common ground.
Odem is also a showcase for Puschnig and Youssef's versatility as players. Puschnig is one of the founding members of the Vienna Art Orchestra and a main soloist in Carla Bley's bands, but he also feels at home in funky duets with bass guitarist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and his collaboration with the Korean percussion ensemble SamulNori. Youssef's music is rooted in the Sufi tradition, but he is open to many musical ideas, and lately he has brought the oud into much more electric environments through his collaborations with Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, trumpeter Arve Hendriksen, and keyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft. Thakur, who played on Youssef's first two discs (Malak, Enja, 1999; Electric Sufi, Enja, 2002), comes from a lineage of tabla players and is associated with great sarod player Ali Akbar Khan's college of music.
The opening "Promise," written by Youssef, displays his skill at composing simple and catchy sentences and Puschnig's ease at ornamenting these sentences with bluesy phrasing. "Armenian Longing" and "Soul Rewind" are arresting duets between Youssef's devotional and fragile vocals and the gentle sax playing of Puschnig, and they are the most beautiful tracks here. "Strained Ties" is based on an Middle Eastern scale; Puschnig improvises on his flute as if it was an Indian bamboo flute, the bansuri.
Some of the collaborations with the special guests are not as successful as the trio playing. The ceremonial "Hanullim Project" with Korean percussionist and vocalist Lee Kwang Soo and the better realized, peaceful reading of "Worlds Apart" by Puschnig's wife, singer Linda Sharrock, push Youssef aside, focusing on Puschnig's masterful flute playing. But the last track, the Youssef-penned "Boushouisha," with Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian and bassist Achim Tang, is a festive conclusion to this cosmopolitan, open-minded meeting that ends with Youssef's peace-seeking prayer vocals.
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