Photos by Thanos G Tsakalos
In the 21st century Anouar Brahem has become one of ECM's most popular artists, with a staunch worldwide following and near-unanimously positive press reactions. The label's 40th anniversary brings a new album of warm, dark sounds and dancing, organic pulses from the Tunisian oud master, performed by his new band.
After two CDs more closely related to European music ('Le Pas de Chat Noir', 'Le Voyage de Sahar') comes a recording built more upon traditional phrasing and Arab modes - in some aspects resembling Brahem's 'Barzakh' and the bestselling 'Astrakan Cafι', but with some of the improvisational freedoms of 'Thimar'. The quartet from Tunisia, Germany, Sweden and Lebanon - now fired-up for international performances which include a first European tour this autumn - was brought together by Anouar and ECM producer Manfred Eicher initially for this album.
New music Brahem had written in 2008 seemed to call for a new group, modulating between cultures and disciplines. His work in the "Thimar" trio with John Surman had made him particularly enthusiastic about the blending of oud and bass clarinet, and Anouar was excited when he heard Norma Winstone's 'Distances' with clarinettist Klaus Gesing. Eicher also recommended Bjφrn Meyer whose highly mobile bass guitar is a regular highlight of performances by Nik Bδrtsch's Ronνn band (see ECM albums 'Stoa' and 'Holon'). On hand drums, Brahem added insightful young Lebanese percussionist Khaled Yassine.
The album's unusual title references the poetry of Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), to whom the disc is dedicated. Darwish's famous poem "Rita and the Rifle" tells of love thwarted by political realities. Perfect for multi-format radio, the evocative music of 'The Astounding Eyes of Rita' is certain to be embraced by filmmakers, too - Brahem's music is increasingly being used in movies and documentaries.
Anouar Brahem: (oud), Klaus Gesing (bass clarinet), Bjorn Meyer (bass), Khaled Yassine (percussion)