Singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef is one of the most appealing stars of world music, yet his music still resists categorisation within that vague genre. Last year we heard him in a "supergroup" with Omar Sosa and Anga Diaz, but he sounds more comfortable accompanied by the talented crop of Norwegian musicians loosely associated with "nu-jazz".
This cool style of playing, loose-limbed and hard-edged, provides the perfect backdrop to the Mediterranean warmth of Youssef's compositions. The most significant collaborator is producer-guitarist Eivind Aarset, who supplies backdrops of wide-ranging style and density, while remaining empathetic to Youssef's musical personality. Youssef can be deep, light-hearted, complex, funky and achingly romantic, sometimes all within one song. The album's pace is leisurely, full of atmosphere, groove and great playing, but rarely self-indulgent; you never forget whose album it is. By taking the most positive aspects of nu-jazz, Aarset and Youssef have forged a thrilling new sound that could make Divine Shadows a crossover hit.
Although it's a dual-leader album, in which oud player Dhafer Youssef's performance is at least as important as that of guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, one of Glow's chief causes for celebration is Muthspiel's on-form presence. After releasing the shimmeringly beautiful Bright Side (Material Records, 2006)—a little-known masterpiece which may yet take its place alongside such jazz guitar iconographs as Johnny Smith's Moonlight In Vermont (Roulette, 1953, reissued 2004) and Wes Montgomery's Incredible Jazz Guitar (Riverside, 1960)—Muthspiel's project with drummer Brian Blade, Friendly Travelers (Material Records, 2007), was a disappointment, interesting in conception but not entirely convincing in execution.
Diwan Of Beauty And Odd, the first album Tunisian composer, singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef has recorded with an all-American band, carries all the trademarks this exceptional artist is known for: beautiful melodies, heartfelt chanting over infectious grooves and great artistry on his instruments, as well as of all musicians performing with him. These young jazz musicians understand Dhafer's musical world perfectly, and thoroughly enjoy the music making – just listen to how perfectly trumpet player Akinmusire plays in unison with Dhafer or how pianist Aaron Parks duets with him on Fly Shadow Fly. Although the album is more rooted in jazz, his traditional Sufi chants give it a unique and touching quality.
Even in the adventurous territory of jazz, this French-Vietnamese musician stands out as a unique explorer of sounds. His new CD will surprise even those who believe themselves to be, by now, familiar with the diversity of his musical output. The first unusual fact: Most of the tracks were recorded in Lê’s living room (pardon me, his salon), and also completed à la maison using his computer. The second unusual fact: This domestic method of producing music need not conjure up the cosy, well worn realm of familial comfort, in fact Nguyên Lê leads the listener into a space that is full to the brim with warped sounds and acoustical metamorphoses.