Dhafer Youssef – Divine Shadows
[Jazzland, March 2006, CD]
A Jazzland Recordings record through and through and, like much of Bugge Wesseltoft’s work, often suffers from the misguided notion that all you need is a set of good tones to keep your song aloft for 6.5+ minutes. The boring/repetitious aspect of this record remains by far its biggest weakness, but that’s not to say that it’s completely without merit as Youssef’s most acclaimed work to date. Youssef himself has a fantastic set of pipes (‘Odd Poetry’ being a particularly impressive performance) and wields his oud in a manner comparable to Hungary’s Gábor Szabó in places, and the Norwegian string quartet backing him don’t exactly weigh him down either. It’s just that the general makeup of this album is unable to pin down powerful moments. Divine Shadows was clearly supposed to convey a strong subtext of Tunisian spirituality and mysticism, as heard through the almost hymnal delivery of Youssef’s vocals, but ends up coming off as more new age-y than anything else. This feeling isn’t aided by the inclusion of production-heavy, almost trip hop-like production strewn across the album (possibly at the behest of Wesseltoft himself?) that often turn what are just timid and/or hollow performances into ones that are downright cheesy.
The times when this album hits are pretty satisfying, though. ‘Persona Non Grata’ utilizes the nu jazz production quite well to it’s advantage and honestly makes me consider that, if Youssef had structured this album closer to its formula, this album would have turned out something like a more authentic version of Nils Petter Molvaer’s Khmer from ’97. ‘Wind and Shadows’ and ‘Un Soupier Eternel’ are also pleasant, albeit drawn out to too large of a degree that they probably won’t receive too many relistens in the future.
A passable record but ultimately far too reticent to get the intended job done thoroughly.