The Tunisian oud genius has done it again. Anouar Brahem has issued only five records under his own name over the past decade, each more adventurous than the last, without compromising his original vision: for the music of his region to meet with the other music of Africa and Asia and create a delirious sound that is equal thirds past, present, and future, along the precipice of historical lineage.Astrakan Café, the follow-up to his brilliant Thimar, is a smaller-sounding recording that reaches farther into the deep crags of the Balkans. Despite the journeying these musicians do here, they never stray far from the takht, a small ensemble capable of improvising to the point of drunken ecstasy. Listening through Astrakan Café, you can hear the gypsy flamenco tied deeply to Indian ragas and even a kind of Eastern jazz.
From the very first cut here, "The Lover of Beirut", Brahem's fascinating blend of traditional Eastern-flavored tonalities and his very jazz-like sense of free rhythms mix, in an astonishingly instinctual and intimate way, with Gesing's moody clarinet, their melodic lines at times doubling before breaking free to bend and swerve off into a melodic maze before slowly returning to their intricate Byzantine dance.
Anouar Brahem’s third leader date for ECM explores the oud player’s incidental music for Tunisian film and theatre as interpreted by a shifting nexus of musicians, new and old alike. His compositional side takes precedence this time around, for it is accordionist Richard Galliano who lights the foreground with “Comme un depart” and hardly recedes until “Des rayons et des ombres,” the latter a superbly jazzy romp with Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. Bassist and drummer, respectively, add buoyancy to “E la nave va” and “Aïn ghazel,” culminating in the shadow of Jean-Marc Larché’s soprano for the title track.
Over the past 15 years, Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem has assembled a relatively small but profound body of work. A skilled improviser who refuses to be part of the historical authenticity argument, Brahem works from the same trio setting that performed on Le Pas du Chat Noir in 2002, with pianist François Couturier and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. The dialogue between these players is, despite the sparseness of the music and the considerable space employed, intense. The deep listening necessary in the improvised sections allows for a natural flow of ideas to emerge from silence. The compositions themselves are skeletal, with repeating, slowly evolving vamps and lyric lines.