on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2017 31 Okt

„Blue Maqams“ – Anouar Brahem

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 8 Comments



There are a lot of nice things being said about this album, that it’s an instant classic, one of the best ECM releases of the past decade, hearkening back to the „golden years“ (70s-early 80s?) in ECM history. So it was with some trepidation that I placed it on the Oppo, worrying it couldn’t possibly measure up to all the hype. Thankfully, all of those accolades turn out to be true.

The album has a shape all its own, a storytelling arc that swoops up the listener on a sonic journey; it really seems to be meant to be heard in its entirety. It’s a fairly low key sojourn, but it’s not without its dramatic moments, at least in contrast to its constant return to a contemplative center.

When I first heard Maqams, oddly enough In a Silent Way came to mind, not so much for content, which couldn’t be more different,  but in the way both albums wash over the listener, enveloping them in a specific environment, not unlike immersing oneself in a great ocean of spacious sounds, one that, like the sound of the surf, can be put on repeat without tiring of it. Each piece seems to flow inevitably and effortlessly into the next. And there is a connection between these two fine albums: they both have Dave Holland on bass. Holland is like a rock in both settings, laying down the groove and stating the time when necessary, floating when appropriate. DeJohnette, a powerhouse drummer, opts to sit in the background for the most part here, sometimes sitting out altogether, and only showing his formidable creativity and chops in a couple key places.

Pianist Django Bates shows particular discipline in the way he interacts with Brahem’s passionate, sensual, yet understated oud. There is not a note that doesn’t belong- the interaction is a precise give and take, sometimes almost call and response, but the two never get in the way of one another. I for one can’t wait to hear Django’s first ECM release as leader.

Of course there are „tunes“ on here, recognizable melodies, tempos and time signatures that one can eventually differentiate from one another. Yet the overall sense, even after many listenings, is of a complete whole, combined with a luxurious use of silence and a disciplined intention to only play what is absolutely called for. With music this open, these artists achieve a miraculous balance of freedom and form.

I can’t recommend this album highly enough. And I honestly can’t remember the last time I found something so inherently listenable that I just put it on repeat while hanging out at home. Yet putting one’s entire concentration on the music yields vast rewards. It is that good after all!

This entry was posted on Dienstag, 31. Oktober 2017 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Gregor:

    One of my TOP TEN ALBUMS of the year 2017!

  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    The track BAHIA had a jam session feel after the opening passage like from the GATEWAY days, like (somehow) being connected with the late John Abercrombie …

  3. Ingo J. Biermann:

    Yes, I fully agree. Django Bates is great on these tunes. I listened to it driving through Norway and Sweden on the weekend. And now back home in Berlin again, on a rare …

  4. Ingo J. Biermann:

    … holiday.

    (the comment posted itself before I could finish writing)

  5. Michael Engelbrecht:

    The day before yesterday, just round midnight, unusual for me, bottle of Bitburger, okay, two, Oppo on, Bakoon on, Audeze headphones on, and then ready for a deep listening session of Anouar Brahem‘s album. What can I say. I do have the same thoughts and sensations. Tracks six and eight have dramatic peaks such an album needs, I love the sound of the wood of the oud, Anouar Brahem really attacks the strings from time to time.

  6. Brian Whistler:

    Hey, a friend just notified me that ECM posted this review on their official FB page, making Manafonistas famous for a day!

    Hopefully it will bring more traffic to the blog.

  7. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Brian, I sent it to ECM Headquarter, press office, C.S., Gräfelfing, near München (Munique), and they posted it..
    Simple as that.

  8. Brian Whistler:

    Oh, well, that explains that. I would never think to such a thing. Thanks Michael

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