Arion ARN64646

Two very young brothers, Amine and Hamza M'raihi from Tunisia, are joined by a Dutch tabla player on this very original recording. Amine plays the oud and Hamza the kanoun. The Arabian oud is the forefather of the European lute and originally came from Egypt. The name oud means wood. Playing the 11 strings of the oud can be done either with a single or double strike and the level of the player's virtuosity can be determined from the way he uses both techniques.

A kanoun is a hammered dulcimer-like zither whose 72 strings are played with the left hand while the kanoun is placed on the knees of the player. The 72 or sometimes 75 strings are grouped 3 per tone and struck in unison. The tabla is in fact not a single instrument but consists of two drums, a right-handed dayan and a left-handed bayan. The conical dayan is carved from a piece of hard wood, with the base diameter a bit larger than the top which is covered by a membrane. The more spherical smaller bayan is made from copper or bronze and sometimes clay. Though the tabla is very Indian, the word tabla itself is believed to derive from the Arabic word for drum.

The brothers M'raihi are 17 and 18 years old respectively and together with drummer Heiko Dijker explore not only traditional Tunesian music but also other Arabic music, flamenco and Indian –- sufi, qawwali and tihai -- structures. They do that in eight original compositions either written by one of the brothers or together. Many times, the notated compositions merely serve as a base on which to improvise live in the studio. This produces a very intense feeling for the music of these three master instrumentalists. Only one track employs modern studio technique to allow Hamza to multi-track his kanoun against himself.

The mix of Arabic music with its maqam -- an equivalent to our western modes of major and minor scales but far more complex -- with the complex rhythms of the tabla make listening to this CD anything but an easy task. You really have to get involved and pay attention. Without concentration, the innate complexity becomes overwhelming and you better put on another piece of music. Like the Indian Raga system, maqams consist of a predescribed set of notes whose various interrelations are explored by the musicians. The scales are not even-tempered and as a rule, 5th notes are tuned based on the 3rd harmonic, with all other tones tuned according to the maqam used.

Though not without challenges for the listener, the broad variety of styles these three musicians explore on the present CD makes is well worth listening to.