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Following her outstanding performance in collaborative work with Jon Balke and Jon Hassell on the Siwan recording of 2007/8, here the magnificent Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui presents her own border-transcending project, Arco Iris, an emotionally-powerful, musically-dazzling album, at once approachable and profound. She is superbly accompanied by her outstanding ensemble in which violin often echoes the voice and oud, flamenco guitar and sparkling mandolin surround it.
Born in Fez and originally schooled in the Moroccan Gharnati tradition, Amina continues to research connections between the musics of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. Much of the research takes place in and around the music. She is a scholar of a note and a poet, but firstly she is an impassioned performer. When Alaoui sings there is, as she observes, "no need to discuss the origins of fado, flamenco or Al Andalusi" for the music itself explores the common crucible of these styles, and Amina's delivery makes the interconnections impossible to miss. And in the tradition of the greatest singers, she enters the texts - some of them a thousand years old - and makes them new.
Hers is a truly international ensemble. Violinist Saïfallah Ben Abderrazak and oud player Sofiane Negra are from Tunisia. Guitarist José Luis Montón from Barcelona has a strong following amongst flamenco adherents worldwide. Mandolinist Eduardo Miranda was born in Brazil, has lived the last two decades in Portugal, and links choro and fado styles through a vocabulary influenced by jazz. The group's youngest member, Idriss Agnel, son of Amina Alaoui, studied music at Maîtrise Notre Dame de Paris from the age of seven. He is meanwhile renowned as a multi-instrumentalist, contributing here deft percussion and (on one track) electric guitar.
Personnel: Amina Alaoui (vocals, daf), Saïfallah Ben Abderrazak (violin), Sofiane Negra (oud), José Luis Montón (flamenco guitar), Eduardo Miranda (mandolin), Idriss Agnel (percussion, electric guitar)
(4 stars) A pure, clear, ethereal voice...sounds like a gorgeous soundtrack to the palace of the Alhambra. Absolutely beautiful.
-- Evening Standard, (Simon Broughton), July 8, 2011
(4 stars) Alaoui gives the interaction of Jewish, Arab and flamenco elements a new freshness on this exquisitely rarefied recording. -- The Daily Telegraph, (Mark Hudson), July 23, 2011
(4 stars) Beautiful, dreamy stuff from - who else? - the ever-adventurous ECM label...truly exemplary. -- Jazzwise, (Jane Cornwell), September 2011
(4 stars) It's the crystalline purity of her voice that is striking...the five accompanying musicians are outstanding...the music is exquisitely beautiful. -- Songlines, (Simon Broughton), October 2011
(5 stars) Arco Iris is exquisite from start to finish...supported by lovely performances on oud, violin, guitar, mandolin, and percussion. -- BBC Music Magazine, November 2011
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Assisted by musicians from Tunisia, Barcelona and Brazil via Portugal on violin, oud, flamenco guitar and mandolin respectively as well as her own son on percussion, Alaoui has created a timely yet timeless tribute to the various musical influences of the Iberian peninsula. To this extent at least "Arco Iris" comes from the same tradition of fellow ECM artist Savina Yannatou's group Primevera en Salonico amongst others.
Lest there be any doubt, "Arco Iris" is beautifully recorded and exquisitely packaged with informative yet mood-enhancing liner notes from Alaoui herself.
"Fado Al-Mu'tamid" is a self-descriptive fado arrangement of the words of the eleventh century Al-Mu-tamid Ibn Abbad (a one-time ruler of the Taifa of Seville). "Yo laylo layl" is a fantastically sensual and evocative working of on a poem by another Moorish poet of the time, Ibn Zaydun de Cordoba. Not to be outdone, the last two compositions feature the words of Alaoui herself. Of those two, while Que Fare is excellent, the concluding title song "Arco Iris" (which means Rainbow") is, for me, the highlight of the entire recording as Alaoui sings wistfully (in Spanish) of the "Bride of rain for a moment/Or the cloud angel's bow".
The lack of appreciation for "Arco Iris" is tragic as, without wishing to pigeonhole her, Alaoui deserves to receive the acclaim and popularity of Fado's leading light, Mariza as one will struggle in world and jazz circles to find someone fashioning a finer body of work than Aloui to whom I give the last word "What do we have left without love, without nuances, without a rainbow?"
Type into a YouTube search "amina alaoui arco iris" and you will find 4 complete tracks from this lovely album.
Flor de nieve
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