Music Review: Anouar Brahem – The Astounding Eyes of Rita

24 02 2010

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Album Artwork

# Title Length
1. ” The Lover Of Beirut” 7:44
2. ” Dance With Waves “ 3:56
3. ” Stopover At Djibouti” 6:34
4. ” The Astounding Eyes Of Rita” 8:41
5. ” Al Birwa “ 4:51
6. ” Galilee Mon Amour “ 7:17
7. ” Waking State “ 7:48
8. ” For No Apparent Reason “ 6:35

Album Lineup

Anuar Brahem – oud

Klaus Gesing – bass clarinet

Byorn Meyer – bass

Khaled Yassine – percussion (darbouka, bendir)

Studio Albums

  • 1991 – Barzakh with Lassad Hosni and Bechir Selmi.
  • 1992 – Conte de l’Incroyable Amour with Barbaros Erköse.
  • 1994 – Madar with Jan Garbarek and Ustad Shaukat Hussain.
  • 1995 – Khomsa with Richard Galliano and Bechir Selmi and Francois Couturier.
  • 1998 – Thimar with John Surman and Dave Holland.
  • 2000 – Astrakan Café with Barbaros Erköse and Lassad Hosni.
  • 2002 – Charmediterranéen with Orchestre National de Jazz and Gianluigi Trovesi.
  • 2002 – Le Pas du Chat Noir with Francois Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier.
  • 2006 – Voyage de Sahar with Francois Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier.
  • 2009 – The Astounding Eyes of Rita

Anouar Brahem was born in 20 th October 1957 in Halfaouine in the Medina of Tunis. Encouraged by his father, an engraver and printer, but also a music lover, Brahem began his studies of the oud, the lute of Arab world, at the age of 10 at the Tunis National Conservatory of Music, where his principal teacher was the oud master Ali Sriti. An exceptional student, by the age of 15 Brahem was playing regularly with local orchestras. At 18 he decided to devote himself entirely to music. For four consecutive years Ali Sriti received him at home every day and continued to transmit to him the modes, subtleties and secrets of Arab classical music through the traditional master / disciple relationship.
Little by little Brahem began to broaden his field of listening to include other musical expressions, from around the Mediterranean and from Iran and India… then jazz began to command his attention. “I enjoyed the change of environment,” he says” and discovered the close links that exist between all these musics”.


I’ve decided for this album because of the Arab instrument oud that Anouar Brahem beautifully mastered and is pampering us with. The oud is a pear-shaped, stringed instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern music. It is often seen as the predecessor of the western lute, distinguished primarily by its lack of frets. The Oud is a chordophone. Legends attribute the invention of the Oud, in the 3rd century, to Lamak, the grandson of the first man- Adam. Modern musical historians place the inception of the Oud much later. The ancestors to the Oud may go back to Pharaonic Egypt. In Europe the Oud eventually evolved into the Troubadour’s Lute.

Those are characteristics of oud quoted on Wikipedia:

Oud defining features:

  • Lack of frets: The oud, unlike many other plucked stringed instruments, does not have a fretted neck. This allows the player to be more expressive by using slides and vibrato. It also makes it possible to play the microtones of the Maqam System. This development is relatively recent, as ouds still had frets in AD 1100, and they gradually lost them by AD 1300, mirroring the general development of Near-Eastern music which abandoned harmony in favor of melismatics.
  • Strings: With some exceptions, the modern oud has eleven strings. Ten of these strings are paired together in courses of two. The eleventh, lowest string remains single. There are many different tuning systems for the oud which are outlined below. The ancient oud had only four courses – five by the 9th century. The strings are generally lighter to play than the modern classical guitar.
  • Pegbox: The pegbox of the oud is bent back at a 45-90° angle from the neck of the instrument. This provides the necessary tension that prevents the pegs from slipping. The tension of the strings helps to hold what would otherwise be a week joint together. The design is elegant and evolved before the design was written down. The nut, is held in place by the string tension and does not need to be, and is not usually glued. The pegs do not slip if tapered accuratly. If they do chalk is used to make the stick more; soap to enable them to slip more. Proprietary compounds, pastes, sometimes called pegdope are also used.
  • Body: The oud’s body has a staved, bowl-like back resembling the outside of half a watermelon, unlike the flat back of a guitar. This bowl allows the oud to resonate and have a particular tone quality. The shape is structurally very strong and stable enabling it to be very thin. It can be 1.2 mm. Although made of dense hardwood good instruments are not heavy. The guitar structure would not be stable if the build was as light.
  • Sound-holes: The oud generally has one to three sound-holes, which may be either oval or circular, and often are decorated with a bone or wood carved rosette.

“The Astounding Eyes of Rita”

Now that we know what we’re listening to, let’s concentrate on the music.

Anouar changed the lineup from his previous two Studio Albums, 2002 »Le Pas du Chat Noir” and 2006 “Voyage de Sahar” where he was accompanied by  pianist François Couturier and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. On »Astounding Eyes of Rita” accordion and piano are replaced by bass clarinet, bass and percussions.

Album starts with oud flajolete notes. It immediately takes you to the mystic Orient. But not Orient of today. I felt like listening to one of the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Throughout the album Anouar achieved to create very lively feeling. He takes his listener and tries to make him a participant in his storytelling masterpieces. The creation of this sort of lively feeling throughout the album is very hard to achieve. I remember only few albums that gave me similar feel and the one that Anouar reminded me on is “Beyond The Missouri Sky« by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny.

The sound of the oud beautifully lingers with melancholic sound of bass clarinet played by repeatedly awarded jazzist Klaus Gesing. (Klaus Gesing’s Website)

Simple compositions create an imaginary place of beauty and graceful, dignity full, secret, long forgotten world that drowns listener in every time Anouar’s oud speaks. Yes Speaks. On this album Anouar rarely uses his voice and there is no need to. He is telling everything he needs so well trough his instrument. Gentile, hypnotic mumblings on “Stopover At Djibouti” ,  ” The Astounding Eyes Of Rita” ,”Walking State”,…  are just minimalistic additions to a yet perfect soundstage. I couldn’t help but to imagine Arabic dancer moving gently to the sounds of music, her cloths waving in a warm breeze of desert landscape.

Album Peaks: Album as a whole

Timbre throughout album “The Astounding Eyes of Rita” is astonishing. Melodic improvisations of Anouar Brahem and jazzy sometimes ripping sounds of bass clarinet set a perfect soundstage with solid bass lines and dynamic percussions in a background as a rhythm section. I’ve already included the album in my collection of Hi-fi testing albums. Highly recommended to all melodic-folk jazz enthusiasts.

Wolfgang Sandner from Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeïtung wrote: »The Calif El Outhek once said, very wisely, referring to Al Mawsili, the master of Arab vocal art:” each time he sings I have the impres-sion that my kingdom becomes greater”. In listening to Anouar Brahem play I can say that the kingdom of music becomes greater” […] Prophetic music. When the Tunisian Anouar Brahem plays the oud, the musical cul-tures of the East and West are reconciled […] He is so calm and sovereign that the man from Tunisia, reclining on his divan, seems to have gone much further than many a jazz musician busily seeking for new music.«

Familiar to: Al di Meola, Pat Metheny,…




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