One of the most lyrical, contemplative albums ever was issued by Tunesian oudist Anouar Brahem as Le pas du chat noir, teaming him with Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion. Released on ECM, admirers of the German label will instantly make the connection with superior production and sound values. In short, Le Pas was a classic that begged for an encore and with Le Voyage de Sahar four years later, we've been so gifted.
With identical mood and setting to the cat, Sahar still has to wrestle with the greatness of its predecessor's voluptuous melodic gifts. That's where Le Pas remains unequalled, not that Sahar is far behind at all. It's fair to say though that in sheer melodic magic, it doesn't quite meet the precedents set by the 2002 release. But closeness to incontestable greatness still makes for a wonderful outing and if Le Chat were out of print, you'd not know otherwise.
While a quintessentially Arabian instrument, Anouar Brahem plays the oud in a far more universal style stripped of most cultural reminders. His present trio performs a kind of minimalist Mahgrebian chamber music wherein echoes of Satie and Debussy intermingle notated score and improvisational whimsey, shifting their music's value to entertain more deeply into contemplation and sacred space. For those as yet unfamiliar with Anouar Brahem's unique language, there are certain sympathetic parallels with label mate Jan Garbarek (though those only go so far and categorically eschew drum grooves).
On the face of it, the three instruments making up Sahar are the most unlikely of protagonists. In actual practice, it's an ingenious mix that merely underlines the evocation of a timeless, geographically unmoored creative space. Le Voyage de Sahar is a perfect example for what I call music for a rainy day when extrovert tendencies turn about and one looks inside for nourishment and inspiration. Less becomes more and simple but poignant sketches fill out with a sense of wonderment and depth that, by comparison, eludes the busier, technically more challenging music types that fail to take sufficient time to let the silence between the notes do just as much of the talking. Le Voyage is a worthy successor to Le pas and knowing one means needing the other. Here's to number three a few years from now. Perhaps, if we should be so fortunate.