There are many things to recommend purchasing this latest release from the charismatic Joubran brothers: the playing is phenomenal; the recorded sound is spectacular (you can practically FEEL the resonance of the deep bender drum!); and speaking of bendirs, percussion master Youssef Hbeiseh rejoins the Trio to provide plenty of rhythmic genius; and of course, you will be supporting Palestinian artists.
The disc opens strong with a vigorous, pyrotechnical display for the full ensemble, featuring a strong contemporary groove and imaginative rhythmic interplay between Hbeiseh and the ouds. The focus gets a little lost on tracks two and three, where the vocalise adds little to the musical textures on "Zawaj el Yamam" (better if the plaintive sounds of an Armenian duduk were used) and the third track, ("Dawwar el Shams") which despite marvelous playing, simply does not have enough musical material to fill nearly five minutes. Track four ("Douja") also suffers from over extending its limited material, though the vocals are a little better matched to the overall dreamy mood and texture. Things get back on track in track five ("Sama Cordoba") - a thrilling bit of oriental improvisation with some dazzling finger work and perfectly orchestrated percussion from Hbeiseh. The 15-minute-long title track, "Asfar" (meaning "Journey" or "Travel") is evocative of what Ravel's "Bolero" might have sounded like if he had composed it as an oud trio: the entire piece is based upon a simple ostinato that slowly builds in intensity, reaching its climax about 9 minutes and thereafter, slowly unwinds. While beautiful, the material simply was not interesting or varied enough to sustain a quarter-of-an-hour's worth of listening. The disc concludes with a wonderful ensemble track ("Masana") that stays very close to traditional modes, starting slowly and then concluding with a warm and rhythmic dance.
Overall, a beautifully performed disc that could have benefited from stronger programming.