Neo sufi meets Nu Jazz. That describes what's happening on Dhafer Youssef's new Divine Shadows. After his previous outings beginning with Malak where Dhafer joined his extraordinary talents with a multi-cultural band, followed by his collaboration with Living Colours' and Sugar Hill Gang's rhythms on Electric Sufi, he then recorded with prominent exponents of Norway's so-called NuJazz for Digital Prophecy. NuJazz is pioneered by Bugge Wesseltoft and brings together jazz influences with club beats and electronica.
Today's album was recorded at various locations in Europe, from Wesseltoft's own Oslo studio to Peter Inverson's most luxurious Puk studio annex hotel in Judland/Denmark, to the Louxor studio in Paris and finally live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. All the recorded pieces were then masterfully mixed by Eivind Aarset and Dhafer into a masterpiece that goes much further then the already-legendary Digital Prophecy.
On Divine Shadows, the overriding atmosphere is Arab. Electronics and strings blend with a very delicate use of beats in balanced proportion. Whenever more power is needed, electric guitar ostinatos add dynamics. Each track is of unadulterated beauty, with Dhafer ben Youssef Maaref's voice like an angel's. From soft non-verbal chest-song sounds to the most Herculean falsetto in flawless transitions that never crack, Dhafer is a master of this particularly hair-raising vocalization technique. And he is not only a true vocal maestro. His accomplishments at playing the Arabian oud lute are no less substantial.
"Cantus Lamentus" opens this collection and we find Dhafer accompanied by Marilyn Pearl on percussion and the Oslo Session string quartet to provide a soft velours backdrop for cymbal decays and rhythmic echoes. The vocal lament is soft, sad and infectious. Magical electronic key- and fretboard sounds from Eivind Aarset, Audun Erlien and Rhune swirl disembodied around Dhafer's voice that spreads a nearly super-human range of octaves.
The beautiful sound of the oud with its enhanced ability to communicate emotions through semi tones due to the lack of frets stars on "Miel et Cendres". This bluesy, ostensibly simple composition replays itself inside your head long after the track ends.
Another amazing track that begs to be played at increased volume is "Odd Poetry". Arve Henriksen plays trumpet that sounds almost like a flute and there are two bass riffs on e-bass and oud that are pure magic. On "27th Etos", the interplay between oud, Audun Erlien's bass balalaika of and the string quartet explores unconventional textures such as buzzing or muffled strings with most fascinating harmonics.
"Postludium" features subtle oud and trumpet interplay where the trumpet mimics even a duduk and Arabian flute without electronic help. The following two tracks build strongly on electronic landscapes that paint ambient imagery of serene beauty. "Un Soupir Eternal", the final track and dedicated to Eivind Aarset's deceased mother, is the most beautiful, emotional-laden and spiritual composition on Divine Shadows. Recorded live in London, it features just Dhafer, Eivind Aarset on guitars and electronics and Arve Henriksen's trumpet. A soft keyboard , then an eerie trumpet introduce the master's voice that starts out low at a slow pace before he reaches out to the highest power falsetto in a consummate dynamic explosion of masterfully controlled vocal cords and breath.
Divine Shadows is the most sublime CD discovery of 2006 so far, with wayfaring Dhafer Youssef one of the few master musicians who can truly bring the Western and Arabic cultures together in ways that are at once modern and ancient.