As with last year’s Digital Prophecy, Youssef is accompanied by some of the cream of Norway’s recent generation of musicians. On one side sits Arve Henriksen who, apart from some lovely trumpet solos, intermittently sings angel-like throughout the evening. On Youssef’s other side sits the more retiring Eivind Aarset, his face mostly hidden behind a curtain of shoulder-length, blond hair as he bends over his guitar. Aarset plays a generally supporting role, sketching ambiences behind his colleagues’ playing, only occasionally delivering a trademark solo in either monsoon wind or abstract noise mode: when these coalesce out of the background, they’re a joy to experience. Rune Arnesen, illuminated in the semi-darkness by a laptop screen, flutters stealthy, percussive streams from brushed cymbals while Audun Erlien provides solid support on electric bass. The emotional outspokenness mentioned earlier is typified partway through the evening when Youssef dedicates Norwegian Girl, an Aarset composition, to the latter’s recently deceased mother. What follows is an affecting lament whose distinctive melody is delineated vocally by both Henriksen and Youssef. The group’s music ebbs, swells, flows and floods, but there’s a loping, forward motion in Youssef’s music when nothing particular happens, which achieves a feeling of luminous movement that’s sufficient in itself and more subtly eloquent even than his vocals.
London Jazz Festival 2004 by Dhafer Youssef & Arve Henriksen
Dhafer Youssef’s music trains one eye on tradition and the other on how that tradition can live, even thrive, in the present. Along with fellow oudists Anouar Brahem and Rabih Abou-Khalil, he explores the interface between his native Tunisian music and that of Western improvised musics. He has increasingly woven contemporary elements including electronica, breakbeats and ambience around his distinctive vocals and oud playing on albums such as Electric Sufi and Digital Prophecy. This, together with a characteristic outspokenness, help to define tonight’s performance. Youssef sits at the centre of his group, the ancient, graceful shape of the oud seeming to glow against his black clothes as he tweaks the miniature mixing desk at his side. From time to time he directs a frank look at one of his colleagues, frequently accompanied by a great, big smile that betrays the genuine pleasure he takes in their performance. His voice ranges between a velvety, beseeching whisper and an impassioned, extended yell. In full flight Youssef’s singing achieves a fervent glossolalia, it’s candour perhaps even provoking some discomfort for a small minority of the audience.