Dhafer Youssef: Sounds of Mirrors

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It is 60 years since Ahmed Abdul-Malik made what was possibly the first jazz oud album, Jazz Sahara (on Riverside). While the field hasn’t opened up hugely to the Middle Eastern lute equivalent since then, its sound has graced some wonderful world jazz albums. Notable contemporary exponents include the Lebanese Rabih Abou-Khalil, Tunisian Anouar Brahem and, the author of this gorgeous addition to the canon, Dhafer Youssef.

Abou Khalil and Brahem both collaborate with jazz players rooted in the jazz tradition, but Youssef perhaps has perhaps taken his instrument’s sound even further in every sense, working with electronic and acoustic instrumentalists across the contemporary spectrum.

Sounds of Mirrors fulfils a long held ambition to focus in on Indian music, something of an obsession since Youssef encountered it in Vienna, where he was studying classical music.

The Tunisian first teamed up with percussionist/table player Zakir Hussain, but one thing led to another and while looking for a wind instrument he discovered the Turkish clarinettist Selenderici. Quite how he hit on the idea to complete the group with Norwegian guitarist/soundscape artist Aarset is anyone’s guess – but it was genius.

The sultry, slowly circulating mix of the Levant and Asia over Aarset’s shimmering synth guitar work is simply beautiful. Youssef thinks the album is more meditative than his previous work (Diwan of Beauty and Odd). But actually each of the dozen new, original pieces on the new record perfectly balances elements of atmosphere, drive, group interplay and solo features.

From “Humankind”, where the leader’s top line vocal soars with the clarinet, to the closing “Good Morning Mumbai”, with Youssef’s plangent wake-up call on oud, it’s a headspinning and intoxicating set.

Discography
Human Kind; Dance Layan Dance; Al Wadood; Ruby Like Wine; Journey in Bergama; Nasikabhushani; Shaanti “Atithi Devo Bhava” Suite; Chakkaradaar “Atithi Devo Bhava” Suite; Satya “Satyagraha” Suite; Satyagraha “Satyagraha” Suite; Good Morning Mumbai (67.00)
Youssef (oud, v); Zakir Hussain (table); Eivind Aarset (g); Husnu Senlendirici (c).
Anteprima LC 28080 103 831-5