Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Tunisian-born oud virtuoso Dhaffer Youssef, a fixture on the international jazz scene since the 1990s, treats listeners to his tenth album, Streets of Minarets, and one that is noteworthy for its impressive team of jazz musicians he assembled for this recording: Herbie Hancock (piano), Marcus Miller (bass), Nguyen Lee (guitar), Rakesh Chaurasia (flute), Adriano Dos Santos Tenori (percussion), Dave Holland (double bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), and Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet). Unlike Youssef’s previous albums, he selected his musical colleagues before he wrote the music specifically for each one. What is remarkable about this new release is that it was a product of the pandemic during which Dhafer overcame challenges presented by the understandable anxiety that many artists faced and undergoing vocal cord surgery.
Each of the twelve selections on the playlist has a title that immediately connotes the kind of music that they contain:
- Street of the Minarets
- Bal d’ âme
- SharQ Suite I: Serenade
- SharQ Suite 2: Funky
- Omar Khayyam: Suite 1: Flying Dervish Intro
- Omar Khayyam: Suite 2: Flying Dervish
- Omar Khayyam: Suite 3: Flying Dervish Outro
- Sudra Funk
- Whirling in Air
- Spinning Hermit
- Herbie’s Dance
- Ondes of Chakras
The program covers a broad range of styles from ethereal (“Streets of Minarets”) to funk (“SharQ Suite 2”) to unabashedly romantic (“Bal d’ âme”) to dance (“Spinning Hermit”) and to an unmistakebly Arabic style (“Sudra Funk”). Each of the above-listed musicians gets his proverbial moment in the sun and each track blessed with virtuosic moments whether it comes via Hancock’s piano, Akinmusire’s trumpet or Youssef’s oud. The final track, also being released as a single is “Ondes of Chakras,” an introspective study created by winds, strings, and percussion.
The program is recorded in CD-quality sound and is available on Tidal and Qobuz as a 96kHz/24-bit download. The sound engineering team provides excellent reproduction of the wide variety of instrumental timbres on display, and the performers are distinctly placed in a deep soundstage. Dhafer’s voice is the beneficiary of well-balanced miking and adds a special quality to each of the selections that contains his vocal tracks.
After playing this download as a straightforward stereo recording, I replayed it in a matrixed multichannel mode from AirPlay on my MacBook Pro laptop to an Apple TV wired to a Theta Digital Casablanca V surround processor driving a Dolby 7.1 system and was completely blown away by the atmosphere it generated when heard in that format. In either case, this is a stunning audio production.
The Final Assessment
For those unfamiliar with Dhafer Youssef’s considerable body of work, Streets of Minarets represents an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with one of today’s leaders in jazz, fusion, and funk music. I have rarely heard such a wide range of musical styles and genres on one album that reminded me of Miles Davis Bitches’ Brew and John McLaughlin’s Shakti that changed the sound of contemporary jazz forever.
The oud is a very expressive instrument and it is a real aural treat to hear it played as expressively as it is in Youssef’s hands. In the artist’s own words: “this record is a journey through time with a bridge sitting between the child I was, a music lover and admirer of the great masters like Miles, Herbie, and Dave, and the grown-up individual I have become.” Enough said, this album is highly recommended for all music lovers.
Streets of Minarets is available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and Tidal. Physical CDs and Vinyl LPs can be purchased on Dhafer Youssef’s official website, Amazon, and fnac. Available for pre-save here.
- Label: Back Beat Edition
- Artist: Dhafer Youssef
- Producer: Dhafer Youssef
- Run Time: 60 Mins.
- Release Date: 27 January 2023
- Audio Format: 44.1kHz/16-bit | 96kHz/24-bit