Azure Deux & Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass

The following appeared in Ambience.

The untimely death of Bryn Jones (who was Muslimgauze) at 38 came as a shock. He was a prolific and individual musician, who has produced a ream of albums (see News). While there will be no new Muslimgauze music, there is still plenty in planning and productions: the multi-vinyl 'Tandoori Dog' and an 8 CD box set for example. Much of this music is released on the Muslimlim edition series, which can be subscribed to or bought while available, and has runs of less than 1000. For those who don't have the time, money, inclination or just missed out, Staalplaat have released 'regular' discs compiling tracks from the limited editions - 'Azure Deux' is the second (following 'Beyond the Blue Mosque': a colour trend).

(As an aside, some people have called the limited series (and the prolific general release schedule) an indulgence of Muslimgauze's - that there is no quality control and he just releases whatever he creates. While this may be true, there is, more importantly a market. No one is forced to buy these releases, but they fill a need of fans to get as much of their favourite musicians music - hence The Beatles Anthology series, Dylan's, Lennon's or Springstein's box sets of unreleased demos etc., or the Fripp/King Crimson collector's club of what are largely cleaned up bootlegs. And while Muslimgauze releases often have common elements or moods, each is independently interesting).

Three limited editions, spanning five disks, are sampled here: 'Fatah Guerillas' (the triple set), 'Zuriff Moussa' and 'Sandtrafikar', with the first perhaps over represented, although the balance in styles is pretty good. All three were mentioned in the addendum to my Muslimgauze article, which also gives some more information.

Various facets of Muslimgauze's beat driven and ambient take on a middle eastern influenced music are amply demonstrated on 'Azure Blue'. There are three examples of the long wandering ambience which sucked me into my first taste, 'Veiled Sisters': 'Devour', 'Kalifate' and 'Sandtrafikar' combine a shimmering string motif, languid drumming, some dub and drifting conversations. The music is redolent of the heat of the desert, mirages glimmering in the distance, sand slowing your movement to a earthly pace, or wandering idly through a tented market.

Then there are the distorted, beaty tracks like 'Minaret above all others' or 'Thief of sand' which are generally fast, with some dub aspects, combining drums with horns and other instruments. The selections from 'Fatah Guerillas' are harder than those from 'Zuriff Moussa'. Finally, slightly overlapping, are a series of more Middle Eastern tracks taken from 'Zuriff Moussa' where the instrumentation and mix are more classically 'ethnic' - in the beaty tracks the rhythm is at the front with horns and strings hidden below, while in these the beat is less prominent.

For the collector, this compilation is useful to revisit albums - with a prolific artist it is easy to loose track of albums and their highlights, and makes a nice 'other' mix of tracks. For the general public it is an interesting, varied Muslimgauze album, and is a good place to start or as a complement to other releases.

'Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass' comes in a cover featuring the artwork of Shirin Neshat (who also did the cover for 'Vampire of Tehran') who takes photos and writes text into lighter spaces - on the white of the eye on the cover or the hand holding a gun on the gatefold. The text is Arabic - so I can't tell if it is 'offensive': interestingly the covers of Muslimgauze releases have been largely in the label's hands, so the furor over some images, laid at Bryn's feet, was actually their concern. The photos are integrated with pictures of the desert, but it is hard to tell if they are part of Neshat's work.

The music represents a subtle but distinct shift: the first two tracks ('Bilechik mule' and the title track) are Muslimgauze trademark heavily beated Arabic tracks, featuring drums, wind instruments and shakers in long lopping loops, with some chanting, but a new feature is the addition of electro, phased-drones and sounds underneath the mix.

In 'Nazareth Arab' this becomes more prominent with sci-fi like electronic squarks and squiggles in attacks that phase in and out with the rapid percussion. On the next tracks we also get the inclusion of a vinyl-like crackling over the surface, in Bristol-sound fashion. 'Sarin odour' features the electronica, but a more refined version, with a rhythm track which sounds as if someone is saying 'padpad', along with a deep organ sound and melody. After the track fades its elements away, 'Turkish purdah' introduces a female singer who runs through the whole track, deep in the mix. The beat here battles with a harsh, stuttering phaser sound.

The 'Minarets of America' is a throwaway 1 minute sketch which rises from silence through a distorted stretch to 'Istanbul' a long slower piece, crackles and distorted drum looping through, accompanied by a melody played on horn or organ. Again there is a deep 'vocal', this time a Mullah calling, sometimes almost solo, and a long fade where most of the instrumentation drops away leaving a bubbling reggae organ, then distant percussion, and the chanting.

Two versions of a single 'Uzi Mahmood' finish the album. The 7" version has a very dubby, skittering beat with echoing organ, while a more languid ambience engulfs the 12", with a slower beat, voice samples and a flute. Another very satisfying Muslimgauze album, demonstrating his continual exploration of, and experimentation in, his chosen sound world.

If you are interested in investigating the music of Muslimgauze, you can do no better than trip to Terry 'The Edge' Bennett's web site (www.muslimgauze.org) for a complete discography with reviews (including ambience ones). While you're there have a look at the main site for some other interesting discographies - Eno, Bill Nelson, Cluster and many many more.

review by Jeremy Keens
This text originally appeared in Ambience magazine Feb/Mar 1999.
Reproduced by permission.

see also Azure Deux, Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass & Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass & Remixs Vol. 3

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Azure Deux  Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass  Hussein Jeeb Tehar Gass (vinyl re-issue)
January 9, 2017