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L'Empreinte Digitale

cd cover Building on his release two years ago with The Naguila Ensemble, Pierre-Luc Ben Soussan returns with another sterling tribute to the musical traditions of the Sephardic Jewish communities of North Africa. Once again Ben Soussan, a percussionist extraordinaire, enlists the help of Andre Taieb, a hazan, or cantor, from the Montpellier syngaogue in Paris, who lends his knowledgeable liturgical talents on this exquisite outing.

The roots of this music can be found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, where Jews lived for centuries; they flocked to the region in even greater numbers after the Spanish Inquisition. With this in mind, it's easy to understand how the music intertwined with the surrounding sounds.

Moorish and Ottoman maqams (or modes) are mixed with prayers and piyyutim, or religious poems, chanted in Hebrew. It's a pleasing mix, as evidenced on this intriguing collections of tracks centered around Pesach and other significant religious days.

Taeib is in particularly fine form on "YaReach Yaquar," a 19th century piyyat that was heard during Torah readings, and "A Avti Ki Yshmah," Psalm 116 of King David's Book of Psalms, which recounts the exodus from Egypt. What's striking about this number is the adherence to tradition. There are "modal sparring matches" that underscore the beauty of Sephardic cantillation, which is all about improvisation by true religious experts who can sing their hearts (and lungs) out. Naguila does a wonderful job of bringing to life this type of Sephardic music. - Ed Silverman

Available at cdRoots

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