Dhafer Youssef: Street Of Minarets

Tunisian oud virtuoso’s tenth album, mostly recorded before his last two, includes Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock and Ambrose Akinmusire

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If Youssef’s tenth album sounds a bit dated and patched-together, that’s due to its odd back story. Most of it was recorded an unspecified number of years ago at a legendary Los Angeles studio with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Marcus Miller and Vinnie Colaiuta, who has drummed for Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell. 

Youssef, however, declared it “an album with no soul” and shelved it, moving on to his 2016 album Diwan Of Beauty And Odd with only the same trumpeter, Ambrose Akinmusire. He later resurrected the LA project, adding overdubs in France.

You can still hear some of that slick soullessness – and the belaboured gestation process – in the finished product, which seems like one step forward, two steps back from his exquisite Sounds Of Mirror from 2018. That album, played by a trio throughout, is more focused and improvisatory, while the new one feels like a sprawling hodgepodge.

There are many moments of beauty, though. Bal D’âme features a gorgeous, languid oud solo that suggests its kinship with the flamenco guitar. Youssef offers another beautiful acoustic solo on Flying Dervish Outro, ending the 12-minute Omar Khayyam Suite.

SharQ Serenade showcases graceful Akinmusire trumpet over dubby drums from Colaiuta. That segues into Funky SharQ, with Hancock’s retro synth squiggling over complex polyrhythms.

On Ondes Of Chakras, a fat, understated electric bass solo from Miller dovetails with lovely bansuri flute by Rakesh Chaurasia. The breezy Herbie’s Dance brings to mind the 80s funk-fusion of Spyro Gyra or Herbie himself – at least until Youssef’s vocals kick in.

Those piercing falsetto vocals are the biggest change from 2018. Street Of Minarets refers to Youssef’s childhood memories of calls to prayer by muezzins, including his grandfather, and his own muezzin training. While surely virtuosic, his keening falsetto can be hard to listen to for an extended period, making me long for an instrumental version.

Discography
Street Of Minarets; Bal D’âme; SharQ Suite: SharQ Serenade, Funky SharQ; Omar Khayyam Suite: Flying Dervish Intro, Flying Dervish, Flying Dervish Outro; Sudra Funk; Whirling In The Air; Spinning Hermit; Herbie’s Dance; Ondes Of Chakras (59.51)
Youssef (oud, v); Rakesh Chaurasia (f); Marcus Miller (elb); Dave Holland (b); Vinnie Colaiuta (d); Nguyên Lê (elg); Herbie Hancock (p, syn); Adriano Santos (pc); Ambrose Akinmusire (t). Los Angeles and Paris, recording dates unspecified.
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