It was just a little less than a year ago since we last heard from Avishai Darash via his ‘Quarantine Blues EP’ released via Italy’s A.MA Records. The exquisite five track selection – as the title suggested – was given birth during the world’s initial quarantine period which limited the scope of the recordings to a trio format recorded during one afternoon in Darash’s living room.
And when I say “limited the scope of the recordings”, that is in no way to be diminish the staggering achievements of the project and its players – with a trio comprised of Darash on piano, Arin Keshishi on bass and Udo Demandt on percussion, ‘Quarantine Blues’ depicts these lovingly created and beautifully performed compositions displaying all the passion, joy and creativity that went into the creation of each one.
Initially introduced to audiences in 2018 through his ‘Nomadic Treasures’ collective and the following year through his solo full-length ‘Samskara’, the Amsterdam-based pianist and composer had introduced his distinct perspective on contemporary jazz – masterfully interweaving elements of his Middle Eastern heritage with the western influences he had started to become exposed to while studying in New York and before ultimately relocating to The Netherlands.
What ‘Andalusian Love Song’ strives to achieve – in the same way that Darash’s projects have always strived for – is the celebration and fusion of varying musical cultures and styles that have all contributed to what andalusian music is indicative of today: a style of music bursting with influences from North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
While the world continues to fluctuate between its state of crises as dictated by a certain global pandemic, things have at least progressed enough to promote Darash from outside of his living room into a recording studio with the fifteen musicians that comprise the Marmoucha Orchestra. An inspired collection of artists and musicians that each come from different backgrounds and musical disciplines but collectively create something incredibly magical that acts as an extension to the groundwork as established by ‘Quarantine Blues’.
Such is the collective’s varied approach to music, even the recording process differs between its members in regards to the backgrounds they bring to the table. As described by the “Meet the team of Marmoucha Orchestra” YouTube video, Marmoucha Orchestra oboist and artistic co-ordinator, Maripepa Contreras described the various approaches within the group in regards to her penned scores, “We have classical musicians and they need to read the music from the score; but the jazz musicians know what to play by reading the chords, and the Arab musicians mostly learn and know the songs by heart. And with the arrangements we try to bring them all together.”
‘Andalusian Love Song’ thrives off of such diversity and interplay between the musicians. What must have come as a considerable source of pride for Darash is to have the opportunity to expand upon ideas and concepts from ‘Quarantine Blues’ with four of its songs reimagined for this full-length release sitting alongside some wonderful new additions. ‘Arriving Home’, ‘Prakriti’ and the album’s opening title track deserve unreserved praise for their fiery and impassioned energy while the more introspective and achingly-brilliant orchestral numbers like ‘The Day After’ and ‘Longing Sadness’ are wonders in their own right.
As mentioned earlier, Avishai Darash has carried his musical mission statement with him for many years across a variety of impeccable releases but it’s hard to imagine his vision being realised in a more appropriate way than what has been achieved with ‘Andalusian Love Song’. It’s inspired, it’s joyful and very much a masterpiece.