The music of "Souvenance", by turns graceful, hypnotic, and taut and starkly dramatic, was recorded in 2014,six years after oud master Anouar Brahem’s last ECM album, "The Astounding Eyes of Rita".
"It took a long time to write this music," he acknowledges, noting that his emotional world had been usurped by the unfolding story of political upheaval sweeping first through Tunisia then through the neighbouring countries. Extraordinary waves of change, accompanied by great hopes and fears. "I don’t claim a direct link between my compositions and the events taking place in Tunisia," says Anouar, "but I have been deeply affected by them." New directions for the music find Franҫois Couturier returning to the Brahem group, frequently supported by subtle string orchestration. The strings have a glowing transparency and fragility in these pieces, often providing shimmering texture against which the contributions of the quartet members – and, bove all, Anouar Brahem’s unique oud-playing – stand out in bold relief.
This double album was recorded at the Lugano studio in May 2014, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
ƒƒƒƒ Télérama (France)
****** All about Jazz (USA)
"CD of the Month" – Audio (Germany)
****** Marlbank (UK)
****** FONO FORUM Forum (Germany)
****** Stereo (Germany)
5/5 – Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
"Choc" Classica (France)
"Essential" Jazz News (France)
**** Expresso (Portugal)
Indirectly inspired by the sociopolitical upheavals in his country over the last five years, the album assumes a muted cinematic sweep, with scant harmonic movement, but a wealth of shifting texture. […] The oud playing is infallibly strong, but some of the album’s more striking moments belong to Mr. Gesing, who knows how to suggest the strain of a human voice. Spread across two CDs, this is a work of tensile beauty, by turns hopeful and foreboding.
Nate Chinen, The New York Times
Meaning ‘remembrance’, ‘Souvenance’, is the Tunisian oud master’s new album after a five year gap following quartet recording ‘The Astounding Eyes of Rita’ also on ECM that also featured Gesing and Meyer. In reuniting his former colleagues, Brahem has written a commanding and all embracing set that seamlessly captures and portrays emotions ranging from despair to joy, and pessimism to optimism that shows a real depth of vision. […] This is a wonderful album and Brahem should be congratulated for bringing together such passion and emotion in a set that for all its serenity speaks volumes.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views
At the end of the day, that's what ‘Souvenance’ truly represents: a spiritual narrative that explores the depths of emotion and the furthest reaches of the human condition...in the most understated yet clarified way possible. Brahem may take more time between recordings these days, but when the result is as moving as ‘Souvenance’, it's clearly worth the wait as the years melt away and the music makes all other concerns irrelevant.
John Kelman, All About Jazz
The marvelously empathetic strings are like active observers watching and serving the small group’s every whim and they do this expertly. ‘January’ beginning the second disc finds Couturier repeatedly marking out a small phrase, then ‘Like a Dream’ a big oud statement going deeper and more serious than before. ‘On the Road’ following is much more introspective Couturier again leading the ensemble off. ‘Kasserine’ – a city in Tunisia near Sidi Bouzid where the Tunisian revolution began – in this vein is like a lament at the beginning Brahem’s deft timbral facility a feat. Completed by ‘Nouvelle Vague,’ the strings just gorgeous in all their diffidence rising and falling tantalisingly at the beginning, a memorable album of Brahem’s music that deserves the highest praise.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank
Hinter dem scheinbar Statischen der von stabilen harmonischen Kraftzentren dominierten, zumeist bewusst karg instrumentierten Kompositionen verbirgt sich eine bemerkenswerte Vielfalt musikalischer Emotionen. Vieles blitzt hier nur kurz auf, bleibt aber als Subtext bestehen und gibt der äußerlich entwicklungsarmen Musik einen innendynamischen Spannungsgehalt, der das Hören zum Abenteuer macht.
Stephan Schwarz, Fono Forum
Zwei CD-Seiten lang experimentiert er mit den Kontrasten von Opulenz und Reduktion, lässt seine feinziselierte Musik vorsichtig aufbranden, um Borduntöne herum kreisen, mal in Eintracht mit dem akustischen Gesamterscheinungsbild, dann wieder sanfte Kontraste bildend. […] Was letztlich improvisiert sei und was ausgeschrieben, meint der Künstler selbst, sei ab einem gewissen Punkt der Gestaltung unwichtig geworden. Die Wirkung der Kompositionen ist so oder so offen, pointiert über die gesamte Spanne der Musik zugespitzt und herausragend transparent und zugleich volltönend aufgenommen. Von daher. ‚Souvenance‘ ist ein Meisterstück.
Ralf Dombrowski, Audio
Er nimmt das eigene Oud-Spiel weitgehend zurück und überträgt seine Klangvorstellungen stattdessen auf Kammerorchester, Klavier, Bassklarinette und Elektrobass. Schöne, weiträumige, unaufdringlich romantische Stücke in audiophilem Klang sind dabei entstanden.
Werner Stiefele, Stereoplay
Die auf zwei CDs verteilten mehr als anderthalb stunden Musik Bergen Wanderungen durch eine Welt, die weder abend- noch morgenländisch ist, sondern einfach menschlich, sehr individuell und zutiefst berührend.
Jens-Uwe Sommerschuh, Sächsische Zeitung
Eine magische, mystische, in vielen Farben schimmernde Musik. Sie oszilliert zwischen schamanenartigen Beschwörungen und romantischen Balladen, freien Ton-Poemen und keltischen Blues-Adaptionen, flottem Gypsy-Swing und schwebenden Rubato-Hymnen.
Georg Spindler, Mannheimer Morgen
Econome en notes mais fort en themes […] envoûte et cultive le mystère.
Anne Berthod, Télérama
Está assim, em permanente enunciação esta pequena obra-prima de espírito e estilo: da vida, reùne o console e o desconsolo, a ilusão e a desilusão, mas, como é costume com Brahem, carrega a mágoa rebuçada em melancholia…
[…This small masterpiece of style and spirit: the life, that brings together the consolation and desolation, the illusion and disillusion, but, as is usual with Brahem, carries the sweet sorrow of melancholy…]
Joao Santos, Espresso
The music of "Souvenance", by turns graceful, hypnotic, austere, and starkly dramatic, follows Tunisian oud-master Anouar Brahem’s last ECM album, The Astounding Eyes of Rita after a five-year gap. "It took a long time to write this music," he acknowledges. Early plans to document the progress of the "Rita" quartet, which had grown to become a compellingly dynamic group in concert, were set aside. "“I was feeling a need to attempt something new." Then, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, came the great political upheavals - accompanied by "immense fears, joys and hopes" - which began in Tunisia and swept like wildfire through the region. Fully absorbed by daily news of popular uprisings, collapsing dictatorships, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, Brahem found his emotional world "monopolized by the political". It was not the right moment to be writing music: "I had to wait for the pressure to fall, before I could resume work."
Souvenance translates as "remembrance", but the album – like the individual track titles – was named retrospectively. Right up until the mix, the new pieces were identified only by the dates of their composition. "I don’t claim a direct link between my compositions and the events that have taken place in Tunisia," says Anouar Brahem, "but I was deeply affected by them."
As a composer, Brahem has always followed his intuition, sometimes finding himself surprised by the musical directions that arise: "It seemed likely that piano would have a role in the new pieces, since several of them were written at the piano. But as I worked on the drafts the idea of a chamber orchestra kept coming to my mind. In October 2013 I went to Paris to start some first rehearsals with François Couturier and then the idea of the project became more concrete. I met with Manfred [Eicher] and brought him some demos and he convinced me to continue along this path."
Since then, the Anouar Brahem group has been restructured, with Couturier, a long-term collaborator on earlier projects (see Pas de chat noir and Le voyage de Sahar) returning, his piano frequently supported by subtle string orchestration. The strings have a glowing transparency and fragility in these pieces, often providing shimmering texture and colour against which the contributions of the quartet members – above all, Anouar Brahem’s unique oud-playing – stand out in bold relief. "With this project I feel I’m improvising differently. It’s a response to the identity of the pieces. Sometimes a few notes are enough. All the instruments had to wait to find their place in this music." This can be challenging for musicians coming from jazz, where claiming the space to make a personal statement belongs to the territory. "That space still exists in Souvenance but it’s become more subtle, more directed. As the writing and arranging developed, the role of Björn’s bass became quite strong and central. The responsibility of Klaus’s bass clarinet this time is harder to define, but it’s an important element, and it’s not easy, as a listener, to know which parts are improvised and which are written."
Souvenance marks the first time Brahem has written for strings. Austrian composer Johannes Berauer, an associate of Klaus Gesing’s, came to Tunisia to work with him on the orchestration. "It was essential to work closely together to stay true to the spirit of the compositions, page by page." (The sole exception is the orchestral version of "Nouvelle vague", which closes the album, an arrangement of a Brahem tune first heard on Khomsa, made by Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits.) "It was very important for me that the strings should have an organic function in the music. All of this work was new discovery; my musical studies had been devoted to our traditional music only. So I had no compositional role models in mind. And obviously I wasn’t drawn to the power and volume that an orchestra can supply. For me, it’s most exciting to improvise against the strings when they are very piano – the detail in the sound and texture, the delicacy and the chamber music quality of it, can be very touching."
The album was recorded in Lugano’s Auditorio Stelo Mori in May 2014 with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. The orchestra has a distinguished history. Richard Strauss wrote for it, and composers from Stravinsky to Berio have conducted the orchestra in programmes of their work. Recent recordings by the orchestra have included a series of albums with Martha Argerich.
"The conductor, Pietro Mianiti, was very helpful, flexible, and open to our intentions. And Manfred, as producer, played an important role in decision-making processes. In a couple of instances we made some last-minute changes to the material. We had to react very quickly inside the tight time frame of the recording."
For the live premiere, on July 10th, 2014, another great orchestra came into the picture. Together with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra (well-known to ECM listeners for their contribution to albums by Arvo Pärt, Erkki Sven Tüür and Helena Tulve), Anouar Brahem, François Couturier, Björn Meyer and Klaus Gesing played Souvenance to an audience of 7,500 listeners at an open-air concert inaugurating the 50th International Festival of Carthage.