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Brahem; Anouar: Souvenance

When I recently reviewed a previous ECM Records release I began the review by stating, "you know, this really isn't my sort of thing…". A sentiment which rightly caused some to ask why I reviewed it in the first place. The answer to that question is right here on Souvenance by oud player Anouar Brahem; for if you'd asked me straight out before I heard this two disc effort if an album featuring piano from Francois Couturier, bass clarinet from Klaus Gesing, bass from Bjorn Meyer, oud, of course, and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Pietro Mianti was something I'd want to spend time with, I wouldn't have exactly grabbed it out of your hands. And yet having lived with this album, created as Brahem's homeland, Tunisia, was in turmoil, I have to say that it is a captivating, beautiful, yet austere piece which completely engages you. Transporting your thoughts to somewhere challenged yet engaging, compelling yet disturbing and sparse yet overflowing.

Brahem had never composed for strings before, however aided by Austrian composer Johannes Berauer, the results are stunning. More often than not the orchestra are employed to set the atmosphere, droning quietly in the background, or stirring emotions through building sounds. Yet without them, this album would be far less stimulating than it is. Often the moods are considered and introverted, but never do they feel constrained, or restrained in any way, a claustrophobia encountered and then smashed through with subtly rather than a brash touch. Impressively all the constituent parts come together cleanly, releasing the expected Jazz vibe into something altogether more Classical, or even, dare I say it Progressive. However don't take that to mean in any way that, say, Genesis or Yes would be found in these stark surrounds, but the movements this album contains all tell stories through music and have a structured, ordered feel that Jazz sometimes struggles to live with; none of the musicians given the spotlight, yet all vital to how everything appears in the end.

All that said Souvenance is far from an easy album, hard to break through, tough to get to know. However if you devote yourself to it for a short period then the rewards start to flow freely, as you are whisked to a place where threat and release often arrive simultaneously; your mood the driver to which is encountered on each visit.

Souvenance may not be "my thing", but it has become so much more; engaging and challenging, keen yet stand offish. It is never less than a thrilling encounter and one which across two discs can still feel all too short…

Track Listing
1. Improbable day
2. Ashen sky
3. Deliverance
4. Souvenance
5. Tunis at dawn
6. Youssef's song

CD 2
1. January
2. Like a dream
3. On the road
4. Kasserine
5. Nouvelle vague

Added: February 21st 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Anouar Brahem online
Hits: 1475
Language: english

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