BLUE MAQAMS (ECM)
Is this the year’s finest release? It is two decades since the great Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem last collaborated with jazz musicians on the timeless Thimar. That was with John Surman and Dave Holland, and now Holland returns to the fold in company with drummer Jack DeJohnette and British pianist Django Bates. Inevitably Brahem’s compositions remain rooted in Arabic classical music, but compared with Thimar the nine pieces here transcend idiom to a greater degree, allowing the three jazz players more harmonic, rhythmic and textural room to move and interpret.
Just on half a century after they first played together with Miles Davis Holland and DeJohnette prove the perfect rhythm section for the project, bringing superlative elasticity to bear. The surprise packet is Bates, something of a maverick, who understood that too much piano would smother Brahem, and therefore often holds back to doing little more than casting auras of harmony around the oud, before soloing with panache. Brahem’s playing is as shrouded in mystery as ever, drawing you into worlds of twilight beauty and muted sadness.