BEIRUT: Liban Jazz celebrated its fourth birthday not with a bang but with a whisper, thanks to a two-night engagement at Music Hall with Tunisian oud virtuoso and composer Anouar Brahem. Brahem performed Sunday and Monday evening with Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion, filling the typically rowdy, cabaret-style venue with delicate melodies, gentle solos and unusually subtle and subdued sounds.
The trio presented "Le Voyage de Sahar," the 13-song suite released as an album last year, a follow-up to Brahem's critically acclaimed "Le Pas du Chat Noir," from 2002. In a performance marked by great sensitivity and austerity, each musician used his instrument to stalk around the spare melodies that rise and fall through each song in "Sahar." Sometimes their movements were languid; other times their rhythms picked up and become sprite-like.
Throughout the show on Sunday, the crowd at Music Hall was so silent - no drinks were (overtly) sold during the performance lest the sound of clinking ice cubes disturb the musicians - that one could hear the click of every lighter and the clatter of every mobile phone that escaped its owners hand and clanked to the floor.
Brahem is no stranger to the Lebanese stage, and it is perhaps fitting that the last time he performed here live was for the closing slot of Liban Jazz's inaugural festival in the Zouk Mikhael Amphitheater. This time around, in addition to the two concerts, Brahem also screened his documentary film, "Mots d'Apres la Guerre," featuring interviews with Lebanese artists and intellectuals in the aftermath of last summer's war, at Masrah al-Madina on Saturday.
Brahem is a perfectionist who relishes subtleties, potent pauses and extended silences. As such, Music Hall posed a few challenges for the trio. One could imagine more clarity and precision of sound in a proper concert hall, and better yet one built in close consultation with an acoustician. On stage, Brahem's solos were so nimble and spare that the lower, softer registers nearly vanished Sunday night. Nonetheless, the audience, nearly packed to the rafters, actually sat still, listened and offered a steady stream of ardent applause.
Brahem's music does not sit comfortably in fixed categories like jazz or classical. And fu-
sion is a term he particularly
dislikes. "I try to be myself. I try to be free," he said in an interview conducted in Beirut back
"There's no purity in music. We are living in a world where you can hear many things and see many things. You have to be yourself. That's the most important thing. I am interested in creativity. I am interested in modernity. When I started to compose I realized it's important to make something new, to be myself, not to imitate."
"Le Voyage de Sahar," like "Le Pas du Chat Noire," is a single and sustained work rather than a sequence of disparate songs. It is less melodious that its predecessor and possibly more abstract. Performed live, it is nearly hypnotic in effect - and made ghost-like by the quiet singing Brahem threads into the texture created by the other three instruments.
"I start by writing little themes, through improvisation," said Brahem of how he composes. "Most of the time when I work, I work with friends. But most of the time when I write, I write alone. The oud is my pen."