Various Artists

Tunisia: A Musical Anthology of the Orient

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Of some 20 volumes in this UNESCO-sponsored series, only one is devoted to the small land of Tunisia. The absolutely gorgeous music that is presented here makes this release stand out like a photograph of a beautiful desert island amongst shots of grungy city skylines. Not that the other releases in the series are smoggy in any sense, it is just that listeners might find themselves reaching for this particular side more and more. Things begin with a flute solo from Salad el Mahdi played with the lightest touch of lute in the background, almost as if it was a scent and not a sound. Then begins a series of solos on different types of lutes. Fans of stringed instruments will be interested not only in the atmospheric music and the heavy chops of players such as Ali Sriti, but in the information provided on scales and modes. The country might be piled high with lutes, but this is by no means the end of the Tunisian instrumental arsenal. There is also the kanun, a type of zither, and the rabab, a bowed instrument. Not to mention the zorna, a kind of oboe that is featured here with rocking kettledrum accompaniment. Appropriately enough, the survey also includes several religious songs and an example of popular songs known as "fundu," Arabic for "the best diamond." This lengthy performance featuring a full ensemble concludes the album and is mesmerizing in the extreme. The generous playing time just adds to the pleasure of this fine collection. In typical style for this label, the lengthy booklet is printed in three languages.

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