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Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar

The sound of Anouar Brahem’s oud will immediately suggest classical Arabic music even to those who’ve never heard of Brahem or the oud. For many years, however, Brahem hasn’t been content to play in traditional settings. The cosmopolitan musician found a home with ECM in the ’80s, and since then his recordings have ranged from the divergent to the wildly divergent. This latest recording serves as a sequel to Brahem’s Le Pas du Chat Noir, which also featured Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier.

One would think that the odd instrumentation alone would result in a bizarre sound, but really this band comes up with something very familiar. Oud or no, Brahem’s band plays soft-focus Euro cabaret-folk with a dose of French classical music thrown in. This is Brahem’s band and his music, but he seems like a guest player here. He blends with the delicately layered group sound on a seemingly endless stock of melancholy themes, and he takes restrained solo spots here and there as Matinier drones softly behind him. It’s actually Couturier’s keyboard impressionism that sets the tone. Even the longer pieces feel like vignettes-traveling themes, sad ballads or twee dances that set a single, evocative mood and then fade away like smoke from the end of a cigarette. Brahem’s album is a gorgeously played recording, but it isn’t particularly demanding-on the players or the listener.

Originally Published