Dhafer Youssef
Birds Requiem
OKeh ****

With the four-part ‘Birds Requiem’ suite spread liberally across the album, the oudist/vocalist Youssef is joined on a melancholic, moving, and often very still work. There’s a certain compelling wisdom in Youssef’s prevailing musical character sometimes offset by his heartfelt vocals often soaring high into a falsetto. Nils Petter Molvær’s sparse and effective interjections underline the sense of mortality Youssef’s music so ably conveys, while Hüsnü Şenlendirici’s clarinet adds a certain mystique, just as Eivind Aarset revs up the electronics superbly, leaving the Estonian Kristjan Randalu’s moody piano accompaniment to provide the balm. The band opens up on ‘Blending Souls and Shades’ but Birds Requiem is not overly laden with beats but listen for bassist Phil Donkin’s clever touches here and there on an album that serves as a reminder of just how compelling a creative force Youssef is on a significant work of sorrow and reflection. It may even eclipse Youssef’s best work, Glow and Divine Shadows, not only in terms of sheer impact but also for its remarkable compositional flair.