Album review: Dhafer Youssef: Birds Requiem

Dhafer Youssef

It is the day you scan the grey skies for swallows and there are none, there will be none for at least seven months, no more their joyful wheeling and swooping at dusk, their calls audible above city noise. Easy then to lapse into sadness at this tiny loss, which is, you tell yourself, insignificant when compared to the eternity of bereavement. Sometimes you want someone to express that loss, not with words but with pure sound, what the poet Robert Frost called the Sound of Sense – when you understand what is being said from the sound of it, just as you understand the tenor of a conversation heard through a wall without being able to distinguish distinct words. That someone is oud virtuoso and vocalist Dhafer Youssef in this beautiful impressionistic album, Birds Requiem where his extraordinary voice soars like one of those swallows, leaving you, earthbound and wistful, content just to have witnessed the flight.

There are diamonds strewn across this album – the oud which sets out slow dance rhythms (the Birds Requiem) which are repeated throughout the album and are picked up by the sympathetic piano of Kristjan Randalu; the very far away landscape of Nils Petter Molvær’s trumpet;  times when voice and clarinet blend so skillfully so you don’t know which you are listening to.  And the remoteness embodied in the kanun, a zither played in Turkey.   Then prepare yourself for the searing pain of  Khira “Indicium Divinum” Elegy for My Mother, its simplicity and dignity are overwhelming.   Someone has expressed your own loss, far better than you can yourself, with or without words.

Dhafer Youssef, oud, vocals
Nils Petter Molvær, trumpet
Eivind Aarset, guitar
Phil Donkin, double bass
Hüsnü Şenlendirici, clarinet
Aytaç Doğan, kanun
Kristjan Randalu, piano
Chander Sardjoe, drums

Mary James  26 January 2014

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