DHAFER YOUSSEF — Abu Nawas Rhapsody (review)

DHAFER YOUSSEF — Abu Nawas Rhapsody album cover Album · 2010 · World Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Well, it’s been a while since Dhafer’s last album has been released, and although vaguely aware of his works, I’d waited until I saw him at Brussels’ Jazz & Folk Festival Brösella to acquire it. Can’t say I was too well-inspired, because just thinking on how I could’ve spent the last two years living with this album, I can’t help thinking that my radar needs some calibration or fine-tuning ;o))). Part of the reason is that I’d heard previous works of his, and they were fairly different to this latest opus. Because an opus, it is: Abu Nawas Rhapsody (subtitled The Wine Ode, the name of the astounding opening track) is indeed worthy of the “opus” calling, due to its aerial and emotional appeal. Outside Dhafer’s oud and vocals, you’ll find the haunting piano from the Armenian Tigran Amasyan, the acoustic bass of Chris Jennings and Giuliana’s drums… and that’s all, really… Yet, THAT MUCH as well.

A solitaire piano opens the album, soon joined by Dhafer’s warm slow and low near-wordless soulful vocals (scat might not be the right word), almost like a drone sound. Obviously very spiritual and heaven-inspired, Dhafer’s music borrows heavily from the Mid-Eastern musical realm, but once he shifts to his surprising upper-register vocals, one understands just how personal this album will get. The 9-mins Ondes Orientales takes its time to develop, but once on its intended tracks, the piece smokes an incredible and enthralling positive energetic vibe oozing from a red-hot rapid-fire modern fusion. Khamsa starts almost like a religious incantation or prayer and remains a very calm piece. As you’ll guess by the play on word of Interl’Oud, it is mostly a piece entirely dedicated to the oud, despite a bit of piano and bass and serves as an intro to the energetic bossa-fusion of Odd Elegy. Ya Hobb is another incredibly spiritual piece, where Dhafer’s high-pitched voice sends shivers down the spine. Most of the tracks left are much in the same mould or of the same ilk, all sending much joy and felicity to the listener. The tracks are alternating between slower sung pieces and some wilder instrumental energetic world fusion, sometimes between Brazil and Mid-Eastern (both lead instruments Dhafer and Amasyan are of that heritage).

While the fairly sober mainly-black Arabic-inspired artwork is attractive, it contrasts heavily with the mainly colourful white pages of the booklets, presenting modern watercolour paintings for each of the 12 pieces of the album. In either case, this album has been on a regular rotation in my CD decks, and its superb ambiances suits perfectly your getting cosy and frisky with your partner. Much recommended.
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