Al-Andalus Records 194
By Srajan Ebaen
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Moroccan oud player Tarik Banzi heads the Oregon-based
Al-Andalus ensemble. He now presents us with his first solo release of
ten original compositions/improvisations that alternate between single-voice solos and subtle augmentations by percussion, or multi-tracked numbers with Tarik accompanying himself on acoustic or electric
As the Saz is the quintessentially Classical Turkish solo instrument of nearly mythic proportions, so the ten or eleven-stringed bulbous lute with the angled neck called oud is its Arabian equivalent. It is equally and deeply entrenched in a Classical milieu of complicated modal
maqams, florid Taqsim embellishments and microtonal non-tempered scalar subdivisions.
According to anthropologist Dr. David McMurray, the word "lute" is actually derived from the Arabic
"al'ud", giving credence to the oud's relative antiquity, seniority over its European counterpart, and the constant use it has enjoyed in Islamic culture. Tarik Banzi grew up in
Tetouan, Morocco, the northernmost point of Africa. From there, sailors throughout the centuries crossed the Straits of Gibraltar for Spain.
Spain too is where Tarik completed his studies in Fine Arts before he permanently relocated to the US. Well versed in his native musical tradition, the Spanish apprenticeship added ingredients from Flamenco culture. This quite naturally culminated in his fascination with Moorish Spain and the consequent formation of
Al-Andalus dedicated to this uniquely creative, multi-cultural period in European history.
His present stay in the United States, the cultural cauldron of our world, seems only a logical extension. Tarik is a musician who has dedicated himself to blend authentic ethnic performance styles. He modernizes them just enough to remain appealing and accessible to Western ears that weren't reared on the intricacies of Classical Arabian music.
By concentrating on haunting melodic strains of great lyricism that downplay heavy-metal fret board exorcisms, Tarik's solo oud talks to our untrained ears very compellingly. Like a singer, he relies on the ebb and flow of the breath to impart a strong organic sense of song in his structures. The most unusual - and perhaps experimental - aspect here is the appearance of wailing electric
oud, at first quite jarring in its modernistic rock bite, like hearing modern language in a period movie, but only used for occasional color and thus more questionable accent than fundamental faux pas.
Vision is a contemplative album of great and not always immediately obvious depth. It paints with a burnished and virile brush against the canvas of silence. It's not background fare but, similar to the meditatively exploring Alap intros of Classical Indian raga, in need of focused attention to hold the otherwise only faintly sketched musical spaces of the pure solo exploits. The overdubbed insert tracks are supported on a more worldly and steady rhythm base. Via the inherent juxtaposition of the alternating track sequencing, this creates the effect of wandering in and out, from the introspective solitude of a quiet room onto a balcony overlooking a bustling street, and back again.
Vision is a quite the rarity. It showcases an instrument only superficially familiar to Western ears, by an artist uniquely qualified to bridge the inherent chasm with a deft sensitivity for both sides.
The only proviso for following Tarik safely over his bridge - just as a real and swaying suspension bridge would require - is to bring yourself to the adventure with the totality of your attention. I'd wager a guess you'd not only enjoy "sticking your neck out" then but return with a newfound appreciation for the Arabian oud that might have lusting for more. Now you should investigate the other two albums on
Al-Andalus' website. Also, type
Anouar Brahem and Thierry 'Titi' Robin into the search engine of your favorite on-line music vendor. This will set you on a pre-charted and promising course into the fascinating aural world of the