Thursday, 1 May 2014

Review: Anouar Brahem - Thimar

On ‘Thimar’, Manfred Eicher’s ECM expands its umbrella of sound even further with a true east-meets-west. Anouar Brahem, the oud master, joins seasoned jazz-men John Surman, who here plays bass clarinet as well as his trademark saxes, and bassist Dave Holland, which instantly will lure many American purists to cite this as being not jazz (no blues, no swing, no standards…). Regardless there are distinctive elements of the genre here, with an abundance of originality and improvisation, both group and solo, on offer.

In truth though, it’s genuinely difficult to work out where the composition and arrangement ends, and where the improvisation starts, such is the skill and subtle spontaneity that each of trio plays with, despite the frequently complex and varied pieces. ‘Badhra’ opens with Surman’s beautifully delicate soprano, before Brahem and Holland introduce themselves slowly, showing a number of paths the record might take from there.

While for the most part uncategorizable, some of the pieces lean more toward the middle-eastern, with Brahem and Holland forming a strong unity, as Surmans sometimes mystical-sounding horns play over the top, while others have a distinctly night-time cityscape sound to them. Brahem’s native Tunisia is referenced enough without totally overwhelming the album, and each of the trio is able to solo comfortably and meditatively while the other two lock into some decidedly strong yet different rhythm, with Holland’s distinctive and richly deep sound perfectly placed everywhere on this album.

It’s remarkable that for three so unusually matched instruments, that the entire recording manages to remain so good, so welcoming, and so thoroughly absorbing throughout. Captivating in both a spiritual and musical sense, there’s a lot going on that is sure to reveal itself over repeated listens. You can’t put this in a genre, unless you want to use the catch-all phrase of ‘world’, but it is both beautiful and fresh, with a wide range and as usual brought out to their fullest by Manfred Eicher’s always pitch-perfect production.

‘Thimar’ is an impressive, and genuinely three-way, collaboration that superbly mixes the pieces of the jazz world, classical, and Arabian all into one melting point, without falling into the easy clichés that those descriptions might conjure up. Full of care, subtlety and originality, there is much to enjoy here in both the exotic and lyrical qualities that these three extraordinary performers create together. This really is a minor gem of world-fusion and is very possibly Anouar Brahem’s best work so far.


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