Wednesday 18 October 2023

'Maelstr​ö​m' by Azmari

'Maelstr​ö​m' marks the new album release from Belgian collective, Azmari, who unveil another project establishing their unrivalled perception of contemporary jazz.

Released through the hallowed walls of Sdban Records - whose catalogue this year alone we have previously marvelled over following the sensational releases of KAU's 'The Cycle Repeats' and John Ghost's 'Thin Air . Mirror Land' - the second full-length from Azmari once raises the bar for excellence for Sdban as well as the band themselves.

Having initially come together in 2015 and headed up by band leader and drummer Arthur Ancion, Azmari is further rounded out by Basile Bourtembourg (keyboards), Jojo Demeijer (percussion), Niels D'haegeleer (bass), Mattéo Badet and Yohan Dumas (saxophones).  

A band that thrives off of improvisation, Azmari's sound has been described as fusing everything from modern and spiritual jazz to psychedelia, dub, afrobeat and even masterfully introducing an Ethiopian aesthetic into the mix.  It's a delectable musical gumbo which seems to always place Azmari one step ahead of their time.

From the band's 'Ekera' EP (2019) to their official full-length debut with 'Sam​ā​'ī' (2021), there has always seemed to be less of an attempt to consciously incorporate as many different genres and styles as possible, with the band's focus really being on playing what feels right.  It's a compelling and sincere approach to music-making that establishes the Azmari sound as a continuously evolving entity and as something forever susceptible to new sounds, concepts and ideas.  

A ten day stint performing in Istanbul some years ago gifted the band with whole new perspectives and dimensions of Turkish and Middle Eastern influences that still resonate with much of Azmari's music today.  With 'Maelstr​ö​m', early single 'Khamsin' nods to this style perfectly with its fiery ode to Anatolian rock alongside other tracks on the album like 'Nanomia' and 'Zargana' that showcase these glorious Turkish- and psych-folk aesthetics throughout.

Much has been made of Azmari's incredible skill in being able to present their music in such an array of fascinating styles and contexts with so much of this album delivering as as incredible achievement.  As alluded to earlier however, nothing about 'Maelstr​ö​m' - or past Azmari releases - feels like an experiment.  While Azmari are a group steeped within their affections for improvised music, the end result seems the product of a collective with a very clear and defined vision of their music and it makes for an engaging and inspirational piece of music.

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