Cover The Astoudig Eyes Of Rita
Recorded October 2008
ECM 2075

Anouar Brahem

The Astounding Eyes Of Rita

  • Anouar Brahem : oud
  • Klaus Gesing : clarinet basse
  • Björn Meyer : bass
  • Khaled Yassine : darbouka, bendir
  • The Lover Of Beirut
  • Dance With Waves
  • Stopover At Djibouti
  • The Astounding Eyes Of Rita
  • Al Birwa
  • Galilee Mon Amour
  • Waking State
  • ‎For No Apparent Reason

Delightful new project, assembled by Tunisian oud master Brahem with producer Manfred Eicher. Combination of bass clarinet with oud suggests a link to Anouar’s “Thimar” trio, but this East/West line-up often feels closer to the more traditionally-inclined sounds of “Barzakh” or “Conte de l’Incroyable Amour”. Klaus Gesing, from Norma Winstone’s Trio, and Björn Meyer, from Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, are both players with an affinity for musical sources beyond jazz, and they interact persuasively inside Brahem’s music. A dance of dark, warm sounds, urged onward by the darbouka and frame drum of Lebanaese percussionist Khaled Yassine. The album is dedicated to the memory of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Echo Jazz Award 2010 Best instrumentaliste of the year – other instrument (Germany)

"La sélection 2009 du Monde/ les cinq meilleurs disques de l'année", Le Monde (France)

ƒƒƒ Télérama (France)

"les cinq meilleurs disques de l'année",  le Devoir (Canada)

"Top Jazz CDs of 2009" Seattle Times (USA)

"Global Hit / Best Global Music 2009" PRI's The world (USA/United Kingdom)

"Best Of The year 2009" Politics and prose (USA)

"Picks 2009" Jazztimes (USA)

"Top of the world" Songlines (United Kingdom)

"Recording of the month" Stéréophile (Germany)

Albums as perfect as this appear rarely. Tunisian oud maestro Brahem has been one of ECM’s most-revered artists for years, pioneering a superior kind of east-west fusion. But this quartet recording beats anything I’ve heard from him yet. Dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the album’s eight originals trace a continuous arabesque, wind and strings intertwining against a trance-like rhythmic pulse.
Phil Johnson, The Independent

The continuity with previous Brahem work is the lightness of touch with which the pieces are executed, the largely Middle Eastern modal structures being a basis for spare, condensed improvisations, and the charm of much of the music comes from the extremely careful placement of the solo flourish.
Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise

Cultures caress rather than clash here, thanks mostly to the centralizing force of Brahem’s fluid and sensitive touch on his instrument, his improvisational fluency and his meditative yet sturdy compositions. … Brahem’s continuing saga makes for one of the more interesting, rewarding and successful experiments on the dangerous and successful experiments on the dangerous turf where so-called “world music” and jazz meet.
Josef Woodard, Jazz Times

Although Brahem’s music is grounded in the traditions that have grown up around the oud over centuries…, his hybridization of those traditions with the ways of European and American jazz have made his extremely individual canon pointedly modern, and very much an example of a genuine world music. Brahem and Gesing’s beguiling interplay – a mystical poetry… – could not exist without rhythmic drive, supplied here… by Swedish bassist Björn Meyer and Lebanes percussionist Khaled Yassine. … Both he and Meyer drive the lead instrumentalists while also gathering a powerful energy between themselves. Throughout these eight tracks, it’s clear that not only do the clarinet and oud belong together, but the ideas that flow from both players mesh into an emotional and intellectual whole as they thrust and parry in turn, bending toward and away from each other.
Robert Baird, Stereophile

Brahmes Musik braucht Zeit. Sie ist eine Pflanze, die langsam wächst, und er ist ihr Gärtner, der sie zum Blühen bringt. Eine entschleunigte Musik, die zum Träumen einlädt.
Daniela Noack, Forum

Here he brings together the unusual ensemble of bass clarinet, bass guitar and Middle Eastern hand percussion to complement his oud playing. Their sparse, low registers leave space for his understated melodies to shine through. … The Astounding Eyes of Rita shows a confidence and clarity of purpose that sets Anouar Brahem apart from all others. It is dedicated to the memory of the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish: if only we could be all assured of such a beautiful epitaph.
Bill Badley, Songlines

Mit Bassklarinettist Klaus Gesing, Bassist Björn Meyer und Perkussionist Khaled Yassine entfaltet er eine Welt voller Geheimnisse, so verschlungen und undurchdringlich wie eine morgenländische Medina oder eine mittelalterliche Arabeske. Doch … trotzdem ist diese Musik leicht und transparent. Brahem und seinem ungewöhnlichen Team gelingt es, gerade aus der Vereinbarkeit des Unvereinbaren lyrisches Kapital zu schlagen.
Wolf Kampmann, Jazzthing

Mélancolique et méditative, mais aussi dansante et ivre de légèreté, cette musique se savoure comme un privilège, un lâcher-prise bienfaisant.
Patrick Labesse, Le Monde Magazine

En quatuor, le joueur de oud Anouar Brahem défie les genres avec une musique modale libre comme l’air.
Richard Robert, Les Inrockuptibles

“The Astounding Eyes of Rita” introduces a new Brahem group, in a sinuous dance of dark sounds (oud, bass clarinet, bass guitar and hand drums), strong melodies, earthy textures... Where Anouar’s last two recordings – “Le voyage de Sahar” (2005) and “Le pas de chat noir” (2001) found him at the centre of a trio orientated towards chamber music, with “Rita” there is a sense of coming full circle.

This, too, is a modern record but it also carries a sense of traditions - including Brahem’s own, and reveals affinities with such early discs as “Barzakh” and “Conte de l’incroyable amour”. There has long been a balance between Western and Eastern components in Brahem’s work. “I need both elements”, he says, but ratios change with each project.

Born in Halfaouine, Tunisia in 1957, Brahem is regarded as his country’s most innovative oud player. As a former pupil of oud master Ali Sriti, he is thoroughly steeped in the secrets and subtleties of Arab classical music. He has absorbed this information and, armed with it, gone out to meet the world, a contemporary musician of profound historical knowledge.

“When I write music”, he explains, “my focus is simply on the melodic universe. Ideas for instrumentation come later.”

Perhaps significantly, the music for “Rita” was composed on the oud, where the “Pas de chat noir” concept had been sketched and shaped from the piano. The new music modulates between the disciplines, as befits a line-up pooling players from Tunisia, Germany, Sweden and Lebanon. “As the new work developed I thought about traditional players and perhaps using more middle-eastern instrumentation but there were also pieces of a different character emerging.

I knew I needed darbouka [the goblet-drum of Arab tradition], for instance, and I thought about bass. It took quite a while to find the right combination of instruments and personalities. While I can easily find fantastic traditional players in my region, I often miss qualities specific to European jazz players, a certain open-mindedness in approaches to improvising, aspects to do with freedom”.

Producer Manfred Eicher helped bringing Brahem together with German bass clarinettist Klaus Gesing and Swedish bassist Björn Meyer, players heard on ECM in, respectively, the groups of Norma Winstone and Nik Bärtsch. “Manfred knew, from our experiences with John Surman [see the “Thimar” album of 1997] that I liked very much the combination of bass clarinet with the oud: the instruments just seem to belong together.

In Klaus’s playing on Norma’s album (“Distances”), I thought I could hear ways in which we might work together. Manfred helped to set up rehearsals, with just Klaus and myself, in Udine. The potential was there, I felt. But we really came together as a band during the record production – until that point, I’d played only separately with each of the musicians.”

Björn Meyer and Klaus Gesing share Brahem’s interest in a broad range of musical expression. The classically-trained Gesing has been extensively involved also with East European musics and with jazz, while Meyer grew up listening to Cuban music, and played flamenco before diving deep into Swedish folk. He also plays music influenced by Persian tradition in groups with harpist Asita Hamidi and his bass often serves as a lyrical lead voice in the throbbing cellular music of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin (ECM albums: “Stoa”, “Holon”).

The band’s fourth member, Lebanese percussionist Khaled Yassine, was brought to Brahem’s attention by his sister-in-law, choreographer Nawel Skandrani. Khaled’s experience of working with dancers helps to give this music its gently insinuating, swaying pulses. “Khaled’s a very interesting player. He is deeply grounded in the traditional music, but also very open-minded: he plays in a lot of different contexts, is very informed. There is a new generation of musicians emerging in countries like Lebanon.” Anouar suggests that these are players of broader vision.

After a highly-productive recording session in Udine’s Artesuono studio, Anouar Brahem brought the new band to Tunisia where they played to enthusiastic audiences in Carthage. 

The album’s unusual title references the poetry of Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008, to whom the disc is dedicated. A hugely-influential figure in the Arabic world, Darwish wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry, and his readings frequently commanded audiences of thousands. When he died in 2008 he was honoured with three days of national mourning and a state funeral in Palestine.