BY MICHAEL TOLAND
If such seemingly inappropriate instruments as the cello, the harmonica and the harp can play jazz, why not the oud? Tunisia’s Anouar Brahem has pursued that line of thought for nearly a quarter of a century. His ninth ECM album may be his most ambitious project so far.
A sprawling double LP on which he collaborates with pianist François Couterier, bassist Björn Meyer, bass clarinetist/soprano saxist Klaus Gesing and conductor Pietro Mianiti and Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, Souvenance carefully weaves elements of jazz, folk and classical music into a tapestry of almost pastoral symmetry. Informed, but not dominated, by the recent political upheaval in his native country, Brahem seeks solace, rather than celebrates tumult. “Tunis at Dawn,” “Ashen Sky” and “Like a Dream” acknowledge menace but fight it with meditative melody instead of dissonant discord. “On the Road” revs up the tempo (relatively), but even it concentrates on shimmer rather than shake, while the brief, string-driven “Nouvelle Vague” scans melancholy but not defeat. Though the pieces stay calm, the mood isn’t passive – rather, Brahem seems to insist that beauty is the most effective means of combatting chaos. In that respect, Souvenance is a potent weapon.
DOWNLOAD: “Like a Dream,” “On the Road,” “Tunis at Dawn”