In the 21st century, jazz remains by far the most flexible, progressive and elusive musical genre, as proves a band of international make-up such as Hijaz. Hijaz is the name of an Arab musical motif, but the band's name also holds a clear reference to jazz.
Hijaz was formed in 2004, and sprung from the collaboration between Tunisian master oud player Moufadhel Adhoum and Greek-Belgian pianist Niko Deman. Hijaz is the marriage of the piano, great instrument from the Western musical tradition, with the stringed instrument that has become synonymous with the Middle East, the oud. Both musicians met in 2004 during a recording session with Tunisian singer Zohra Lajnef, discovered a shared passion for Mediterranean genres and improvisation and decided to work on an instrumental project based around the dialogue between the East and the West.
When imagining the oud outside the Arab world, one immediately thinks of the two contemporary masters of the instrument: the jazzy and poetic Anouar Brahem and the virtuoso, avant-gardistic Rabih Abou-Khalil. Tunisian oud player Moufadhel Adhoum manages to bring the virtuosity of Khalil and the subtle poetry of Brahem together in a highly individual and contemporary interpretation. Pianist Niko Deman first played rebetiko on the bouzouki, influenced by his Greek mother. But his interest in jazz kept growing, so he went to study at the Antwerp Conservatory. With this ample background, he skillfully evokes the crossroads between these genres and traditions.
The dialogue between the oud and the piano is masterfully supported by the light and fluid playing of Moroccan percussionist Azzedine Jazouli and Belgian drummer / percussionist Chryster Aerts. Bass player Rui Salgado provides a rock solid foundation. Together they form an adventurous and imaginative rhythm section, citing rhythms from the traditions of Morocco to India, on top of which the oud and piano weave their sonic tapestry. The music virtually transports you to a quiet patio of a Mediterranean city, at a stone's throw of the busy Medina.
Time for a new phase in the musical journey that Hijaz has undertaken. After a first CD Dunes (2008), it became clear that the group was ready to expand its sonic spectrum, and wanted to broaden the directions they had chosen. Some of the new compositions were tested during live concerts, and met with considerable acclaim. Recording a new CD was the obvious next step.
For this second CD Chemsi, Hijaz further deepens the dialogue between the oud and the piano, between east and west, between emotion and reason, between theme and improvisation. The compositions are harmonically more profound and rhythmically more complex and adventurous. The title of the CD means sun, and perfectly reflects what makes these musicians tick creating beauty and warmth.
Three musicians were invited as guests for the recording of the new CD. Tunisian nay player Houssem Ben El Khadi had previously played a few concerts with Hijaz, and infuses their music with the fire and passion of the breathy flute sound of the nay. Tcha Limberger displays his virtuosity on Hijaz' music, lifting it even higher. Finally, Edouard Prabhu, an Indian-French tabla player from Pondicherry (Tamil Nadu, India), was invited to add to the complex rhythms.
The result is enchanting, profound, mysterious and elevating, thanks to the splendid new compositions, the refined playing of all the musicians, the subtle production and the warm sound. After Chemsi, Hijaz has become an undeniable standard.