Anouar Brahem - The Astounding Eyes of Rita
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Anouar Brahem
The Astounding Eyes of Rita
ECM (ecmrecords.com)

When contemplating the jazz quartet, unison is not the word that normally comes to mind. Anouar Brahem on the other hand has never been one to shy away from unison passages in his compositions and arrangements, and with his new quartet unisons are exercised, explored, and exploited to their fullest.

Brahem's oud is joined at various times by Klaus Gesing's bass clarinet, Björn Meyer's electric bass, and uncredited wordless vocals. These distinct instruments are carefully arranged, producing wonderful variety in unison melody lines. The hand drums of Khaled Yassine add even more color variation.

Melodies come and go in surprising but not startling ways. The opening track, "The Lover of Beirut," starts with solo oud playing short phrases ending with long-resonating strings, joined soon by the bass clarinet in a high register melding into the oud's melody. "Dances with Waves" begins with solo bass clarinet in a riff that is reminiscent of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears," before veering off in ways that are both angular and singable, becoming the most memorable melody on this record.

Polyrhythms are used sparingly but to great effect, especially on "Stopover in Djibouti" which begins in a seven-beat time signature. There is room for some wild improvisation by Gesing on the title track. "Waking State" is perfect morning music, great for watching the sun rise while sipping rich dark coffee. The record closes with the fast and funky "For No Apparent Reason."

The players, the compositions and arrangements, and the high-quality recording make this release satisfying. More gratifying still is the variety of colors in the unison passages which grab the ear and the mind after the last open string has stopped ringing. - Greg Harness

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