In the mid nineties I was lucky enough to visit Switzerland for two weeks. Walking happily and aimlessly around the beautiful shores of Lac Lemon, Geneva, one summer evening, I came across five North African musicians playing entrancing modal melodies on the traditional instruments of their region. As I recall there was an Oud, hand drums, a reed instrument and several other stringed instruments. I stopped to listen and during a break in the music asked them the obligatory, “what country are you from?” “Tunisia” they called out with huge grins indicating their traditional costumes. “Dizzy Gillespie”, I said turning to my friend Michael as I threw a few Swiss francs into the cap that lay in front of them. We had hardly walked on a dozen steps when a cheerful cry of “hey English” accosted us. As we turned round the musicians began channeling Dizzy and to my ears that version of ‘Night in Tunisia” sounded just wonderful. I marvelled that they should know that 1940’s American Be-Bop warhorse because they were barely more than teens. Jazz can truly be a world-music.
Some years ago I listened to a not-so-successful attempt to use an Oud in Jazz. The band was about in the late 1950’s and the ‘fusion’ was far from convincing; a novelty at best. As the ECM label broadened the scope of its Jazz offerings I began to hear marvelous improvised music on the Oud. In the late 90’s I purchased several CD’s by Tunisian Oud player Anouar Brahem (a Keith Jarrett influenced musician). The Oud creates a wonderful soundscape and the deep improvisations the instrument is capable of adds much to the musical lexicon.
In 2009 at the Wellington Jazz festival I decided on a whim to go to an additional concert. The group was lead by Sufi Tunisian Oud player Dhafer Youssef. This concert was up-there as an experience and I enjoyed every note. His band consisted of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Michal Miskiewiscz (drums) and a great Canadian arco-stick-bass player whose name now eludes me. Dhafer sung his other worldly songs and played the Oud and the crowd was entranced. Having the heart of the utterly brilliant Tomasz Stanko band as his rhythm section did not hurt either.
The Oud is just fine by me.