Compact Disc: ECM 21641
By Srajan Ebaen
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Genre: Middle-Eastern/Jazz hybrid of
sax/clarinet and double bass
Anouar Brahem's 1998 release
Thimar, with John Surman on sax and bass clarinet and Dave Holland on double-bass, is the kind of masterpiece that trips flags in alternate media coverage but tends to elude the mainstream. It's exotic but not flashy, it's impossible to categorize - and thus a hard sell on the retail floor --, and precedents that would hint at what to expect are few. Jan Garbarek's neo-tribal, Jazz-inflected style comes to mind, or Thierry Robin's solo oud meditations on semi-nude women, but how visible or useful are those reference to most music lovers?
The oud, especially in Turkish music, enjoys special veneration, but is rarely heard outside traditional Middle-Eastern styles.
Thimar places it within a readily accessible context of double-bass lines that, though not Jazz per se, create a comfortable semblance, and the ready familiarity with the saxophone's or bass clarinet's reedy timbre make for further connections to a Western audience. And so, in fact, does the dreamy melodic work between Surman and
Brahem. It features just enough blue notes to suggest Jazz, and enough Middle-Eastern embellishments and harmonic progressions to blur the lines.
The end result is a spacious rather than tight trio setting that avoids getting locked into any grooves but rather celebrates the less gravitational mood of the East. A lot of room is dedicated to improvisational explorations for all three musicians, and while each track has its own peculiar flavor, the overall sense is one of ease, calm playfulness and a certain element of extrovert contemplation. Since I don't have any liner notes - a Canadian friend copied this for me on is laptop while visiting - I can't be sure, but one gets the impression that this album took time to gestate, rather than being the product of a tightly scheduled, two-day studio session. All the tunes here are pervaded by a sense of timelessness that's usually the result of the participating artists occupying a shared psychic space, something that tends to happen more than being available on command.
Thimar is really a sensational work, one of those "deep wells" that beckons to many return visits since there are so many subtleties awaiting appreciation. There's nothing flashy that impresses quickly and wears out equally rapidly. Consequently, it isn't a musical dish to be swallowed in a rush to elsewhere. It requires the kind of unfocussed focus -- the essence of all formal meditation -- to truly be appreciate for what it is: a musical Seshin between three master musicians captured, in time, on a little silver disc. Isn't technology magic? When you discover music such as this, it feels even more magical.