Souvenance Anouar Brahem
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- 1Improbable Day12:41
- 2Ashen Sky07:36
- 5Tunis At Dawn06:42
- 6Youssef's Song10:23
- 8Like a Dream09:40
- 9On the Road07:59
- 11Nouvelle vague02:40
Info for Souvenance
The music of Souvenance, by turns graceful, hypnotic, austere, and starkly dramatic, follows Tunisian oud-master Anouar Brahem’s last ECM album, The Astounding Eyes of Rita after a five-year gap. “It took a long time to write this music,” he acknowledges. Early plans to document the progress of the “Rita” quartet, which had grown to become a compellingly dynamic group in concert, were set aside. “I was feeling a need to attempt something new.” Then, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, came the great political upheavals – accompanied by “immense fears, joys and hopes” – which began in Tunisia and swept like wildfire through the region. Fully absorbed by daily news of popular uprisings, collapsing dictatorships, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, Brahem found his emotional world “monopolized by the political”. It was not the right moment to be writing music: “I had to wait for the pressure to fall, before I could resume work.”
Souvenance translates as “remembrance”, but the album – like the individual track titles – was named retrospectively. Right up until the mix, the new pieces were identified only by the dates of their composition. “I don’t claim a direct link between my compositions and the events that have taken place in Tunisia,” says Anouar Brahem, “but I was deeply affected by them.”
As a composer, Brahem has always followed his intuition, sometimes finding himself surprised by the musical directions that arise: “It seemed likely that piano would have a role in the new pieces, since several of them were written at the piano. But as I worked on the drafts the idea of a chamber orchestra kept coming to my mind. In October 2013 I went to Paris to start some first rehearsals with François Couturier and then the idea of the project became more concrete. I met with Manfred [Eicher] and brought him some demos and he convinced me to continue along this path.”
Since then, the Anouar Brahem group has been restructured, with Couturier, a long-term collaborator on earlier projects (see Pas de chat noir and Le voyage de Sahar) returning, his piano frequently supported by subtle string orchestration. The strings have a glowing transparency and fragility in these pieces, often providing shimmering texture and colour against which the contributions of the quartet members – above all, Anouar Brahem’s unique oud-playing – stand out in bold relief. “With this project I feel I’m improvising differently. It’s a response to the identity of the pieces. Sometimes a few notes are enough. All the instruments had to wait to find their place in this music.” This can be challenging for musicians coming from jazz, where claiming the space to make a personal statement belongs to the territory. “That space still exists in Souvenance but it’s become more subtle, more directed. As the writing and arranging developed, the role of Björn’s bass became quite strong and central. The responsibility of Klaus’s bass clarinet this time is harder to define, but it’s an important element, and it’s not easy, as a listener, to know which parts are improvised and which are written.”
Souvenance marks the first time Brahem has written for strings. Austrian composer Johannes Berauer, an associate of Klaus Gesing’s, came to Tunisia to work with him on the orchestration. “It was essential to work closely together to stay true to the spirit of the compositions, page by page.” (The sole exception is the orchestral version of “Nouvelle vague”, which closes the album, an arrangement of a Brahem tune first heard on Khomsa, made by Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits.) “It was very important for me that the strings should have an organic function in the music. All of this work was new discovery; my musical studies had been devoted to our traditional music only. So I had no compositional role models in mind. And obviously I wasn’t drawn to the power and volume that an orchestra can supply. For me, it’s most exciting to improvise against the strings when they are very piano – the detail in the sound and texture, the delicacy and the chamber music quality of it, can be very touching.”
The album was recorded in Lugano’s Auditorio Stelo Mori in May 2014 with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. The orchestra has a distinguished history. Richard Strauss wrote for it, and composers from Stravinsky to Berio have conducted the orchestra in programmes of their work. Recent recordings by the orchestra have included a series of albums with Martha Argerich.
Anouar Brahem, oud
François Couturier, piano
Klaus Gesing, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Björn Meyer, bass
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana
Pietro Mianiti, conductor
was born in 20 th October 1957 in Halfaouine in the Medina of Tunis. Encouraged by his father, an engraver and printer, but also a music lover, Brahem began his studies of the oud, the lute of Arab world, at the age of 10 at the Tunis National Conservatory of Music, where his principal teacher was the oud master Ali Sriti. An exeptional student, by the age of 15 Brahem was playing regularly with local orchestras. At 18 he decided to devote himself entirely to music. For four consecutive years Ali Sriti received him at home every day and continued to transmit to him the modes, subtleties and secrets of Arab classical music through the traditional master / disciple relationship.
Little by little Brahem began to broaden his field of listening to include other musical expressions, from around the Mediterranean and from Iran and India... then jazz began to command his attention. 'I enjoyed the change of environment,' he says' and discovered the close links that exist between all these musics'.
Brahem increasingly distanced himself from an environment largely dominated by entertainment music. He wanted more than to perform at weddings or to join one of the many existing ensembles which he considered anachronistic and where the oud was usually no more than an accompanying instrument for singers. A deepfelt conviction led him to give first place to this preferred instrument of Arab music and to offer the Tunisian public instrumental and oud solo concerts. He began writing his own compositions and gave a series of solo concerts in various cultural venues. He also issued a self-produced cassette, on which he was accompanied by percussionist Lassaad Hosni.
A loyal public of connoisseurs gradually rallied around him and the Tunisian press gave enthusiastic support. Reviewing one of Brahem's first performances, critic Hatem Touil wrote: 'this talented young player has succeed not only in overwhelming the audience but also in giving non -vocal music in Tunisia its claim to nobolity while at the same time restoring the fortunes of the lute. Indeed, has a lutist produced such pure sounds or concretised with such power and conviction, the universality of musical experience'
In 1981, the urge to seek new experiences became ever stronger and his departure for Paris, that most cosmopolitan of cities, enabled him to meet musicians from very different genres. He remained for four years, composing extensively, notably for Tunisian cinema and theatre. He collaborated with Maurice Béjart for his ballet 'Thalassa Mare Nostrum' and with Gabriel Yared as lutist for Costa Gavras’ film 'Hanna K.'.
In 1985 he returned to Tunis and an invitation to perform at the Carthage festival provided him with the opportunity of bringing together, for 'Liqua 85' , outstanding figures of Tunisian and Turkish music and French jazz. These included Abdelwaheb Berbech, the Erköse brothers, François Jeanneau, Jean-Paul Celea, François Couturier and others. The success of the project earned Brahem Tunisia's Grand National Prize for Music.
In 1987, he was appointed director of the Musical Ensemble of the City of Tunis (EMVT). Instead of keeping the large existing orchestra, he broke it up into formations of a variable size, giving it new orientations: one year in the direction of new creations and the next more towards traditional music. The main productions were 'Leïlatou Tayer' (1988) and 'El Hizam El Dhahbi' (1989) in line with his early instrumental works and following the main axis of his research. In these compositions, he remained essentially within the traditional modal space, although he transformed its references and upset its heirarchy. Following a natural disposition towards osmosis, which has absorbed the Mediterranean, African and Far-Eastern heritages, he also touched from time to time upon other musical expressions: European music, jazz and other forms.
With 'Rabeb' (1989) and 'Andalousiat' (1990), Anouar Brahem returned to classical Arab music. Despite the rich heritage transmitted by Ali Sriti and the fact that this music constitued the core of his training, he had in fact, never performed it in public. With this 'return' he wished to contribute to the urgent rehabilitation of this music. He put together a small ensemble, a 'takht', the original form of the traditional orchestra, where each instrumentalist plays as both a soloist and as an improviser. Brahem believes this is the only means of restoring the spirit, the subtlety of the variations and the intimacy of this chamber music. He called upon the best Tunisian musicians, such as Béchir Selmi and Taoufik Zghonda, and undertook thorough research work on ancient manuiscripts with strict care paid to transparency, nuances and details. For more information visit: http://www.anouarbrahem.com