A little while back, ECM released something spectacular: a 9-track album called Blue Maqams by the master oud player Anouar Brahem.
To make this album more perfect, the co-operation of the artists playing on it, make it a special rendez-vous: Dave Holland on double bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and surprise piano magician Django Bates.
And with a line-up of that calibre, how would I tackle the album and then write about it? Easy: the clue would be in the label and his producer, namely ECM and Manfred Eicher. The former is just an incredible array of talent and creativity and the latter is, well, a genius as he is not just a music producer but in fact the founder of the label (ECM was founded by Eicher in 1969). With over 1,500 albums released to date, this record label does not just issue music, but creates little works of art. One only needs to look at their full catalogue to realize how impressive and diverse this is!
Brahem, Holland, DeJohnette and Bates start touring various European locations next month, with such a strong piece of work at hand, it will be an amazing show for sure.
It should be noted that some of them had never met before the album, but it is just this element that makes Blue Maqams so different and fascinating. It is the universality of music combined to the musicians’ bravura united with their own individuality that create this unique piece of work.
I will never tire of saying and writing about the importance of improvisation, this is a crucial element especially in the world of jazz.
With Blue Maqams, the soft tones and striking reflections produced by the oud are combined to some phenomenal playing by Holland and DeJohnette. A pivotal force to accompany them all turns out to be Bates with his powerful and yet ever so delicate piano playing.
Brahem says: “I like each piece to keep its own identity in and through written music. The musician’s role is to fit into this universe and express himself inside the framework of this identity”. He continues by saying: “Working together to find the right balance between composed and improvised music. For even in composed pieces or passages where I leave no room for personal interpretation, I like the music to sound as though it surges forth in an inspired and improvised flow”.
Now…. what better way to tell you about Brahem’s music and his thoughts on improvisation than in his own words?
Favourite track: La Nuit, 10 minutes and 28 seconds of pure musical poetry.