A strikingly attractive "transcultural" project initiated by Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem, who is both an innovator and a traditionalist in the deepest sense (he has been credited with "restoring the sovereignty of the oud" in Tunisian music). There is no glib fusion of traditions on Thimar but rather a coming together of three very distinctive musicians who sacrifice none of their individuality in the search for common ground. Arab classical music and jazz are the reference points here, but Anouar Brahem, John Surman and Dave Holland meet as improvisors not limited by genre definition.
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.