Middle East-meets-West fusions, heralded under a jazz banner, are nearly always scary. Scary in the sense that, instead of the musicians synthesizing their cultural traditions in a magical gestalt, the result is usually a watered-down pastiche of the kind of easy-listening exotica typically peddled by audiophile labels or stacked next to the patchouli bin at the incense shop. It’s embarrassing, especially if you know how mindbending the real stuff can be. Anouar Brahem, who plays the Arabic stringed instrument called the oud, isn’t scary or embarrassing. But the genre in which he participates is so suspect it takes a while to appreciate the value of his latest album. Recorded with master Brit improvisors John Surman (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet) and Dave Holland (bass), Thimar is never less than beautiful, and is often haunting in its subtle chemistry, which quietly evokes glimmers of blues moods within stately Arabic-themed progressions. Surman’s soprano playing fails to fully erase thoughts of Kenny G, but Holland’s exquisite touch both plucking and bowing repeatedly compels attention. The bassist lends a structural integrity to these pieces that makes it hard to dismiss them as kitsch. Still, there’s something so consistently softcore about this concept that the album seems almost destined to be used as background music.