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Dhafer Youssef Digital Prophecy Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Oud player Dhaffer Youssef hooks up with Norwegian nu-jazz stars for a global jazz...

Colin Buttimer 2003

"The last breath I will take will still be in Arabic".

Digital Prophecy traces a journey from Tunisia's heat to Norway's cool. Across this distance an affinity is discernible in the shared outspokenness of expression of both musical cultures. This recording may also be viewed as the latest in an ongoing dialogue between Norway and the rest of the world; Nils Petter Molvaer's trumpet sound has long seemed like a soft muezzin call, Eivind Aarset's guitar like a keening djinn, Arve Henriksen's trumpet shakuhachi-like and so on. Another lineage may be traced from here back to Marilyn Mazur's groups and thence to Jan Garbarek's outernational explorations.

Digital Prophecy consists of a number of settings for Youssef's vocals and oud (direct ancestor of the European lute) which range between intimate duets and full-blown group grooves. The blend of contemporary beats with the ageless sound of the oud, vocals and bansuri flute is entirely convincing and unforced.

"Diaphanes" (from the Greek: showing through) allows Youssef's reverb-drenched oud to swim in the warm swells and eddies of Aarset's guitars and electronics. A whole book might be written about reverb; often an unwelcome treatment signifying the hushed reverence of the museum, the sound of imposed sanctity. Here the effect evokes the acoustics of Cordoba's Mezquita or the Alhambra at Granada and is applied only to the oud, while the other instruments occupy a different sonic space; the result being a useful delineation of the instrument.

On "Aya (1984)" Jan Bang's beat programming, Dieter Ilg's bass and Rune Arnesen's drums provide a busy, engaging rhythm bed above which Youssef's vocal rises, untranslated, to a spine-tingling yell to the heavens.

When Molvaer appears on the seventh track, "Seventh Heaven Suite", his arrival seems entirely natural, inevitable even. Bugge Wesseltoft'skeyboard work is as sparing and elegant as ever.

Alongside fellow oud players Anouar Brahem (also Tunisia) and Rabih Abou-Khalil (Lebanon), Youssef is exploring the fertile ground between Western and Arabic improvisation. Digital Prophecy makes a potent political point about the openness of the middle-east to dialogue in contrast to the image portrayed by much of the media today. It is not an abrasive sound; the digital of the title is not that of Autechre or Farmers Manual - but its supple grooves and subtle soundscapes make a calm but impassioned plea for understanding and dialogue and invite you in like cool, tiled architecture on a sweltering day.

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