Jun 212011

Le Trio Joubran – Majâz
(2007, Harmonia Mundi, RANDANA RAND 002)

Le Trio Joubran are three brothers: Samir, Wissam and Adnan, descendents from a Palestinian family of oud (a North African and Middle Eastern pear-shaped fretless lute) makers and players going back four generations.

Their mastery of the oud is singular and so is the harmony and the synchronization of their performance On this disc the three brothers are occasionally accompanied on percussion by Youssef Hbeisch.

This recording, Majâz, recorded in 2007 is the third of five in the brothers’ output [¹].

The recording consists of eleven tracks all, save one, being purely instrumental. As mentioned the oud and the European lute can be considered cousins. With some exceptions, the modern oud has eleven strings. Ten of these strings are paired together in courses of two. The eleventh, lowest string remains single. There are many different tuning systems for the oud. The ancient oud had only four courses, increasing to five by the 9th century. The strings are generally lighter to play than those of the modern guitar.

Unlike the European lute, the oud tends to sound more pensive, reflective and at times possibly mournful. Here Le Trio Joubran with their use of three instruments produce a more sprightly sound, which is reflective, celebratory, evocative but never mournful. Think dappled light through the leaves of the tree in the centre of the courtyard of a North African or Middle Eastern home. Or of sounds floating out of shuttered windows as the late afternoon sun causes the shadows to lengthen.

This is music to relax to, to delight you, to lift your soul. And best played in the late afternoon, or when you return home from work. Whilst the three brothers play the music with consummate skill, it does not require intense listening or concentration – but neither should it be dismissed as easy listening. It shouldn’t be put on the CD player whilst you are running around doing something else, one should sit down to listen to it (and to create the right atmosphere and mood, listened to with a glass of mint tea [²]) and relax.

(Image: OCM)

There are eleven tracks on this CD:

1 Masâr (4:56)
Starting in a pensive mood, the three players are well separated both spatially and tonally. The tempo very slowly picks up, as does the strength of playing. By halfway through track the sound is joyous and celebratory. Later the tempo is rapid and insistent, enough to make you want to get up and move with the music.

2 Roubbama (6:08)
Against a very low-level drone note, two ouds pick out a delicate tune with the third (centre) coming in to support the melody. What starts off as a measured rhythm turns into a sprightly dance, before returning to a slower tempo.

3 Laytana (4:20)
An interesting track which has the brothers sounding quite western, in their choice of playing style and tempo. All held together by the excellent percussion playing of Youssef Hbeisch.

4 Tanâsim I (Adnam) (4:20)
This is the first of three pieces of the same name wherein each of the three brothers is given the opportunity to display solo virtuosity.

Here it is Adnam, whose playing displays the gentle ‘pensive’ sound of the oud that I so enjoy.

5 Majâz (5:16)
Against discrete and subtle percussion, Le Trio Joubran conjure up a delicate and atmospheric melody whose tempo and rhythm increases with time along with more insistent percussion.

6 Shajan (5:49)
This is another good example of the three players working so well with one another. Each plays a slightly different tune that is both distinct and complimentary. There are many changes of tempo and pace here that is quite breathtaking.

7 Tanâsim II (Samir) (4:20)
This is Samir’s turn to display his virtuosity. Beginning slowly and quietly with a very subtle rhythm set up by one of the other brothers, Samir picks out a delicate tune that is evocative of the desert sands.

8 Sama-Sounounou (2:59)
Starting with a fast and catchy rhythm set by the percussion, the three oud players weave a complex melody that is exhilarating.

9 Min Zamân (4:50)
This is the only track on this CD that has vocals. A ponderous percussion tone backs the sombre chant-like vocals, supported by occasional and sparse oud playing. In my opinion, this is one of the least successful tracks.

10 Tanâsim III (Wissam) (3:51)
Again this is another example of the reflective style of oud playing that I so like. This time it comes courtesy of Wissam, who with his brothers paint an atmospheric picture.

11 Hawâna (4:20)
To end this CD, we have a fine example of the virtuosity of the three brothers and of the percussionist either playing singly or in unison.


The skill, expertise and virtuosity of Le Trio Joubran are quite evident, but what is far more low-key is the occasional but excellent contribution by Youssef Hbeish on percussion. Another perfect example of a music genre that is still largely unknown in the West, yet deserves to be better known. With Le Trio Joubran as musical ambassadors and prime exponents of playing the oud, this unfortunate ignorance is sure not to last long. 10/10

Recorded in Paris and distributed by Harmonia Mundi, the recording is clear and well focused. The preservation of realistic dynamic range is most satisfying, given the undesirable prevalence of excessive compression used these days. The sound stage is acceptably wide but not particularly deep. It was, for example, difficult to ascertain how far behind the three oud players the percussionist was. 9/10

Equipment used

Sony CDP XB-720E player; Mark Levinson ML28 preamp; Quad 405-2 (lightly modified) power amplifier and Quad ESL 57 speakers

[1] To date, the discography of Le Trio Joubran is:

Tamaas (2003)

Randana (2005)

Majâz (2007)

À l’ombre des mots (2009)

Asfar (featuring Dhafer Youssef) (2011)

[2] How to make (Moroccan) mint tea

The method of preparation of mint tea is relatively complex and varies from region to region. The typical green tea used is a ‘gunpowder’ variety imported from China. A simple and practical method runs as follows:

· In a teapot, combine two teaspoons of tea-leaf with half a litre of boiling water. Allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes.

· Without stirring, filter the mixture into a different stainless steel pot, so that the tea leaves and coarse powder are removed.

· Add sugar (about one teaspoon for each 100ml glass, or less, dependant on taste).

· Bring to boil over a medium heat. This important step in the preparation process, giving the tea its distinctive taste.

· If desired, add fresh mint leaves to the teapot or directly to the cup. Remember to remove the mint within two minutes, as it can give some people acid reflux.

Traditionally the tea is served three times, and the amount of time the tea has been steeping gives each of the three glasses of tea a unique flavor, described in this famous proverb:

Le premier verre est aussi amer que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l’amour,
le troisième est aussi doux que la mort

“The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
and the third glass is as gentle as death.”

Barry Hunt

© Text Copyright 2011 Barry Hunt. Album art work copyright belongs with the owner.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

 Posted by at 11:01 pm

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