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Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem imagines the weightless, shadowy substance of dreams

Wednesday, Sep 11 2002
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Like a desert scene at dusk, the profoundly serene, beautiful, and slow-shifting compositions of Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem resonate long after the music's over. This effect is strange, because the melodies tend to be more abstract and ethereal than hummable, owing as much to the ancient Arab lute tradition as to contemporary world-jazz and film soundtracks.

With minimal instrumentation -- oud, piano, and accordion on his latest CD, Le Pas du Chat Noir -- Brahem creates a spacious and surprisingly full-bodied sound that seems at once vibrant and almost nonexistent. Given the spare orchestration of his trio and the natural quietude of the instrument with which he directs, a kind of weightlessness pervades the 44-year-old composer's style. This buoyancy makes his music elusive: The inattentive listener may find her ear wandering. Yet the method also yields a vivid, cumulative effect of rare depth. Imagine the shadowy substance of your dreams emerging unexpectedly in Technicolor one day in your waking life.

Though little known in the U.S., Brahem's artistry has been recognized all over Europe and in Japan and Tunisia. Perhaps his debut stateside tour -- with clarinetist Barbaros Erköse and percussionist Lassad Hosni -- will increase his renown among world- and creative-music fans here. Indeed, once experienced, the presence of his songs lingers.

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Sam Prestianni

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