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Anouar Brahem أنور ابراهم

Anouar Brahem أنور ابراهم — Souvenance (November 2014)

Tunisia Anouar Brahem أنور ابراهم — Souvenance 
Born: October 20, 1957, Halfaouine in the Medina of Tunis, Tunisia
Album release: November 2014
Record Label: ECM (ECM 2423/24)
Duration:      51:45 + 37:13 => 88:58
CD 1
01 Improbable day     12:41
02 Like a dream     9:40
03 Deliverance     5:07
04 Souvenance     9:16
05 Tunis at dawn     6:42
06 Youssef's song     10:23
Total duration:      51:45 
CD 2
01 January     7:19
02 Ashen sky     7:36
03 On the road     7:59
04 Kasserine     9:35
05 Nouvelle vague     2:40
Total duration:      37:13
♠   Anouar Brahem: oud
♠   François Couturier: piano
♠   Klaus Gesing: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
♠   Björn Meyer: bass
♠   Orchestra della Svizzera italiana
♠   Pietro Mianiti: conductor
Θ♠   The music of Souvenance, by turns graceful, hypnotic, and taut and starkly dramatic, was recorded in 2014 — six years after oud–master Anouar Brahem’s last ECM album, The Astounding Eyes of Rita. “It took a long time to write this music,” he acknowledges, noting that his emotional world had been usurped by the unfolding story of political upheaval sweeping first through Tunisia then through the neighbouring countries. Extraordinary waves of change, accompanied by great hopes and fears. “I don’t claim a direct link between my compositions and the events taking place in Tunisia,” says Anouar, “but I have been deeply affected by them.” New directions for the music find Franҫois Couturier returning to the Brahem group, frequently supported by subtle string orchestration. The strings have a glowing transparency and fragility in these pieces, often providing shimmering texture against which the contributions of the quartet members — and, above all, Anouar Brahem’s unique oud–playing — stand out in bold relief. This double album was recorded at the Lugano studio in May 2014, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
♠   The music of Souvenance, by turns graceful, hypnotic, austere, and starkly dramatic, follows Tunisian oud–master Anouar Brahem’s last ECM album, The Astounding Eyes of Rita after a five–year gap. “It took a long time to write this music,” he acknowledges. Early plans to document the progress of the “Rita” quartet, which had grown to become a compellingly dynamic group in concert, were set aside. “I was feeling a need to attempt something new.” Then, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, came the great political upheavals — accompanied by “immense fears, joys and hopes” — which began in Tunisia and swept like wildfire through the region. Fully absorbed by daily news of popular uprisings, collapsing dictatorships, insurgencies and counter–insurgencies, Brahem found his emotional world “monopolized by the political”. It was not the right moment to be writing music: “I had to wait for the pressure to fall, before I could resume work.”
♠   Souvenance translates as “remembrance”, but the album — like the individual track titles — was named retrospectively. Right up until the mix, the new pieces were identified only by the dates of their composition. “I don’t claim a direct link between my compositions and the events that have taken place in Tunisia,” says Anouar Brahem, “but I was deeply affected by them.”
♠   As a composer, Brahem has always followed his intuition, sometimes finding himself surprised by the musical directions that arise: “It seemed likely that piano would have a role in the new pieces, since several of them were written at the piano. But as I worked on the drafts the idea of a chamber orchestra kept coming to my mind. In October 2013 I went to Paris to start some first rehearsals with François Couturier and then the idea of the project became more concrete. I met with Manfred [Eicher] and brought him some demos and he convinced me to continue along this path.”
♠   Since then, the Anouar Brahem group has been restructured, with Couturier, a long–term collaborator on earlier projects (see Pas de chat noir and Le voyage de Sahar) returning, his piano frequently supported by subtle string orchestration. The strings have a glowing transparency and fragility in these pieces, often providing shimmering texture and colour against which the contributions of the quartet members — above all, Anouar Brahem’s unique oud–playing — stand out in bold relief. “With this project I feel I’m improvising differently. It’s a response to the identity of the pieces. Sometimes a few notes are enough. All the instruments had to wait to find their place in this music.” This can be challenging for musicians coming from jazz, where claiming the space to make a personal statement belongs to the territory. “That space still exists in Souvenance but it’s become more subtle, more directed.
♠   As the writing and arranging developed, the role of Björn’s bass became quite strong and central.
♠   The responsibility of Klaus’s bass clarinet this time is harder to define, but it’s an important element, and it’s not easy, as a listener, to know which parts are improvised and which are written.” (All photos below: © Norbert Wiedmer, ECM Records)
♠   Souvenance marks the first time Brahem has written for strings. Austrian composer Johannes Berauer, an associate of Klaus Gesing’s, came to Tunisia to work with him on the orchestration. “It was essential to work closely together to stay true to the spirit of the compositions, page by page.” (The sole exception is the orchestral version of “Nouvelle vague”, which closes the album, an arrangement of a Brahem tune first heard on Khomsa, made by Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits.) “It was very important for me that the strings should have an organic function in the music.
♠   All of this work was new discovery; my musical studies had been devoted to our traditional music only. So I had no compositional role models in mind.
And obviously I wasn’t drawn to the power and volume that an orchestra can supply. For me, it’s most exciting to improvise against the strings when they are very piano — the detail in the sound and texture, the delicacy and the chamber music quality of it, can be very touching.”
♠   The album was recorded in Lugano’s Auditorio Stelo Mori in May 2014 with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. The orchestra has a distinguished history. Richard Strauss wrote for it, and composers from Stravinsky to Berio have conducted the orchestra in programmes of their work. Recent recordings by the orchestra have included a series of albums with Martha Argerich.
♠   “The conductor, Pietro Mianiti, was very helpful, flexible, and open to our intentions. And Manfred, as producer, played an important role in decision–making processes. In a couple of instances we made some last–minute changes to the material. We had to react very quickly inside the tight time frame of the recording.”
♠   The European concert premiere of Souvenance takes place on December 4th at Munich’s Prinzregententheater, where the Brahem quartet will again be joined by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
♠   Born in 1957 in Halfaouine, in the heart of the Medina in Tunis, Anouar Brahem was ten when he began studying the oud at the National Conservatory in Tunis, and later pursued his apprenticeship with the great master Ali Sriti. In an Arab musical environment where popular songs and crowded orchestras dominated — the oud was reserved for accompaniment — Brahem revealed his many facets in undertaking a mission to restore the oud to the status of an emblematic solo instrument in Arab music, and at the same time breaking with tradition in his work as a composer by integrating elements of jazz and other musical traditions from the Orient and the Mediterranean.
♠   In 1981 he moved to Paris for four years, where he collaborated with Maurice Béjart and composed numerous original works, notably in Tunisian films and theatre. ♠   On his return to Tunisia in 1985, he spent the next five years composing and giving concerts which established his reputation.
♠   In 1989 he met producer Manfred Eicher, who gave Brahem the opportunity to record his first album for the ECM label. Barzakh marked the beginning of a particularly fruitful association which has seen Brahem in the company of some of the world's most talented musicians, whatever the genre or tradition: Barbaros Erköse, Jan Garbarek, Dave Holland, John Surman and Richard Galliano to name only a few.
Solo albums:
♠   1991 Barzakh (ECM 1432) with Lassad Hosni and Bechir Selmi.
♠   1992 Conte de l'Incroyable Amour (ECM 1457) with Barbaros Erköse.
♠   1994 The Silences Of The Palace (CAROL 1792) with Sonia Laraissi.
♠   1995 Khomsa (ECM 1561) with Richard Galliano and Bechir Selmi and Francois Couturier.
♠   1998 Thimar (ECM 1641) with John Surman and Dave Holland.
♠   2000 Astrakan Café (ECM 1718) with Barbaros Erköse and Lassad Hosni.
♠   2002 Le Pas du Chat Noir (ECM 1792) with Francois Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier.
♠   2006 Le Voyage de Sahar (ECM 1915) with Francois Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier.
♠   2009 The Astounding Eyes of Rita (ECM 2075) with Klaus Gesing, Björn Meyer and Khaled Yassine.
♠   2014 Souvenance (ECM) with Francois Couturier, Klaus Gesing and Björn Meyer and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost.
Website: http://www.anouarbrahem.com/

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