Azmari ‘Samā’ī’ LP/CD (Sdban Ultra) 3/5

Brussels six-piece Azmari, were formed in 2015 but “Samā’ī” is their first full-length release and follows on from 2019’s Ekera EP. Azmari are drummer Arthur Ancion, Basile Bourtembourg on keyboards, percussion from Jojo Demeijer, electric bassist Niels D’haegeleer with saxophonists Mattéo Badet and Ambroose de Schepper.

Various travels, both musical and physical, means their soundscape is augmented by instruments such as saz, flute, kaval, berimbau, ney and African and Middle Eastern rhythms. So what does it sound like? Well, it’s a bit of afro-funk, a bit of dub, a bit of ethio-jazz, a bit of classic Turkish folk-rock and other stuff, mixed well into a fusion groove.

“Zegiyitwali” starts the proceedings; echoed sax calls across a sparse soundscape of abstract percussion and bass rumbles. The syncopated, almost tango-like rhythm and baggy keyboards of “Cosmic Masadāni” drop out into a bassy dubby middle-section. This is all vaguely reminiscent of compatriots and label mates, Black Flower. “Kamilari” is uptempo afro-funk propelled by a vigorous and unsubtle rhythm section with a frenetic call and response by the saxes and sinuous keys. “Kugler” is a little more refined and better for it, with the snake-charmer keyboard call and horn response motif and a tight groove with swooshing synthy effects. “Tariq Al Sahara” is a slow-build rhythm with increasingly imposing horns and spaced-out dubby sounds.

“Azalaï” possesses some grandeur with melodic soloing and is a high point on this album. “Fat Ari” features smooth, mellow twin woodwind attack and slinky keys before evolving into thick bottom-ended, chunky dub. “Kadiköy” allows the band to stretch the formula slightly including expansive sax and electric piano solos and later, a pleasing interplay between the saxes and bass. Another top tune for me and also a slight departure from the other tracks is the closer “Doni”. A pensive, backward masked space then encroached by punchy electronica.

“Samā’ī “ is a praiseworthy effort; consistently listenable with flashes of exciting originality particularly on the title track, “Kadiköy” and “Doni”. Maybe a couple of tracks are slightly heavy-handed and I do think the album works best when the band takes its foot off the gas a little and allows some space. On the whole though, it’s an energetic and enjoyable debut with bags of potential.

Kevin Ward