The Astounding Eyes of Rita Anouar Brahem

Album info

Album-Release:
2009

HRA-Release:
13.08.2013

Label: ECM

Genre: World Music

Subgenre: Worldbeat

Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)

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  • 1The Lover of Beirut07:37
  • 2Dance With Waves03:58
  • 3Stopover At Djibouti06:34
  • 4The Astounding Eyes of Rita08:42
  • 5Al Birwa04:50
  • 6Galilee mon amour07:16
  • 7Waking State07:47
  • 8For No Apparent Reason06:35
  • Total Runtime53:19

Info for The Astounding Eyes of Rita

Delightful new project, assembled by Tunisian oud master Brahem with producer Manfred Eicher. Combination of bass clarinet with oud suggests a link to Anouar’s “Thimar” trio, but this East/West line-up often feels closer to the more traditionally-inclined sounds of “Barzakh” or “Conte de l’Incroyable Amour”. Klaus Gesing, from Norma Winstone’s Trio, and Björn Meyer, from Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, are both players with an affinity for musical sources beyond jazz, and they interact persuasively inside Brahem’s music. A dance of dark, warm sounds, urged onward by the darbouka and frame drum of Lebanese percussionist Khaled Yassine. The album is dedicated to the memory of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

“The Astounding Eyes of Rita” introduces a new Brahem group, in a sinuous dance of dark sounds (oud, bass clarinet, bass guitar and hand drums), strong melodies, earthy textures... Where Anouar’s last two recordings – “Le voyage de Sahar” (2005) and “Le pas de chat noir” (2001) found him at the centre of a trio orientated towards chamber music, with “Rita” there is a sense of coming full circle. This, too, is a modern record but it also carries a sense of traditions - including Brahem’s own, and reveals affinities with such early discs as “Barzakh” and “Conte de l’incroyable amour”. There has long been a balance between Western and Eastern components in Brahem’s work. “I need both elements”, he says, but ratios change with each project.

“When I write music”, he explains, “my focus is simply on the melodic universe. Ideas for instrumentation come later.” Perhaps significantly, the music for “Rita” was composed on the oud, where the “Pas de chat noir” concept had been sketched and shaped from the piano. The new music modulates between the disciplines, as befits a line-up pooling players from Tunisia, Germany, Sweden and Lebanon. “As the new work developed I thought about traditional players and perhaps using more middle-eastern instrumentation but there were also pieces of a different character emerging. I knew I needed darbouka [the goblet-drum of Arab tradition], for instance, and I thought about bass. It took quite a while to find the right combination of instruments and personalities. While I can easily find fantastic traditional players in my region, I often miss qualities specific to European jazz players, a certain open-mindedness in approaches to improvising, aspects to do with freedom”. (Anouar Brahem)

"The continuity with previous Brahem work is the lightness of touch with which the pieces are executed, the largely Middle Eastern modal structures being a basis for spare, condensed improvisations, and the charm of much of the music comes from the extremely careful placement of the solo flourish." (Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise)

"Cultures caress rather than clash here, thanks mostly to the centralizing force of Brahem’s fluid and sensitive touch on his instrument, his improvisational fluency and his meditative yet sturdy compositions. ... Brahem’s continuing saga makes for one of the more interesting, rewarding and successful experiments on the dangerous and successful experiments on the dangerous turf where so-called “world music” and jazz meet." (Josef Woodard, Jazz Times)

Anouar Brahem, oud
Klaus Gesing, bass clarinet
Björn Meyer, bass
Khaled Yassine, darbouka, bendir


Anouar Brahem
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

Booklet for The Astounding Eyes of Rita

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