Electric Sufi

COMPOSERS: Dhafer Youssef
LABELS: Enja
ALBUM TITLE: Dhafer Youssef
PERFORMER: Dhafer Youssef (oud, body perc, ambient sounds, v), Markus Stockhausen (t, flg), Wolfgang Muthspiel (g), Deepak Ram (bansuri), Dieter Ilg (b), Doug Wimbush (el-b, electronics), Mino Cinelu (d, perc, sound effects), Will Calhoun (d, loops), Roderick Packe
CATALOGUE NO: ENJ-9412-2

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Although there are probably still some hard-core jazz traditionalists who regard the saxophone as an inappropriate jazz instrument, the music remains vital and innovative in its second century precisely because of its hospitality to a plethora of non-traditional forms and their associated instruments.

Among the latter, the oud has proved an extraordinary success: Rabih Abou-Khalil and Anouar Brahem have already blended its haunting plangency with a variety of jazz-based acoustic instruments; now Dhafer Youssef has set its pure, often melancholy sound against an intriguingly multi-textured backdrop composed of body percussion, electronics, loops and ambient sounds in addition to the more conventional jazz instrumentation of guitar, trumpet and rhythm section.

The result, as the wholly appropriate title suggests, is a beguiling mix of the passionate spirituality infusing qawwali – particularly noticeable in Youssef’s thrilling vocals, which alternate keening stridency with wistful intimacy – and the visceral appeal of cutting-edge electronic music.

Although more notable for its textural variety than for the more customary jazz virtues of hard swing and improvisational virtuosity, Youssef’s music draws heavily for its considerable effect on the jazz-based instrumental spontaneity and adaptability of some of Europe’s most accomplished musicians.

Wolfgang Muthspiel’s guitar-playing is neat and thoughtful, yet vigorously powerful when needed; Markus Stockhausen – particularly on the piccolo trumpet – is consistently agile and pure-toned; Dieter Ilg’s bass lithe and gutsy, but it is the background of percussion and electronic sounds that makes this music so distinctive.

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Juxtaposing gently slinky pieces with jaunty scurries and occasional funky shuffles, the rhythm section simultaneously imaginatively underpins and cleverly embellishes a fascinating and entirely original set from a highly individual composer and instrumentalist. Chris Parker