Sunday, May 1, 2011

In review--Three Brothers, Three Ouds

Le Trio Joubran
As Far (Asfar)
World Village

In 2008 I interviewed Wissam Joubran for an arts and entertainment publication in Washington State and I felt deeply moved by his story.  I was scheduled to attend a Le Trio Joubran concert, but in the end I missed the concert.  This was a real shame because the Palestinian oud-playing brothers’ performance on their studio and live recordings prove nothing short of mesmerizing, even flawless.  The brothers don’t just deliver seamless performances (imagine three ouds in sync or playing counter melodies), they perform with their hearts dangling on their sleeves and in a live DVD that I watched, trails of tears on their faces.  Granted, even though the musicians are blessed with an incredible musical gift and hail from a lineage of oud players, Palestinian life is rife with tragedies. So the musicians have a huge palette in which to draw from when composing and performing music.  At times the music feels heart wrenching and at other times, redemptive.

The brothers currently reside in Paris where they have been knocking out one recording after another, all exceptional portraying both fiery and deeply heartfelt moments.  Someone listening to the latest recording, As Far (English title) or Asfar (Arabic) can hear where flamenco drew its roots. Imagine the same Arab-Andalusian passion performed on a trio of ouds and backed by percussion.  On the new recording, we are also treated to the vocals of Dhafner Yousseff who sings on 2 tracks, Zawâj El Yamâm (displays a wide vocal range), and Douja (in which the singer sounds ethereal).

Dawwâr El Shams reminds me of Ravel’s Bolero with its slow melodic motif that repeats mantra-like, while gradually picking up speed.  Alternately, it also reminds me of a train pulling out of a station.  Percussionist Yousef Hbeisch provides a bass hypnotic beat on his frame drum.  On the track Sama Cordoba we hear the low end (bass) of the oud which introduces a motif.  Then a second (and third?), oud comes in playing the same motif an octave higher while adding ornamentation—the result is spectacular.  And on every track the brothers perform with confidence while unleashing their powerful musical gifts.  They give their all to their listeners, not holding back anything.

The brothers end on a hopeful note with Masâna, which to me feels like the sun peeking through heavy clouds.  Again this track starts out on a subtle note and builds in intensity, especially after the percussion drops in at the halfway point.  I know that I won’t be disappointed with a Le Trio Joubran recording because these musicians go from strength to strength.  It’s not just the technical effort or even the love of their culture, homeland or instrument, but their humanity which comes through in every note.  Sure this music most likely appeals to sophisticated audiences, those who love poetry expressed through both words and musical notes. But if more people listen to music of this caliber, I believe that IQ levels of both the mind and the heart would increase tenfold. There will be some of you reading this who will have never heard of Le Trio Joubran.  I hope you do something to change that.

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