Azmari | Interview | New Album, ‘Maelström’

Uncategorized February 28, 2024

Azmari | Interview | New Album, ‘Maelström’

From the heart of Brussels emerges Azmari, a five-piece ensemble that recently released their mesmerizing new album, ‘Maëlström,’ via Sdban Records.

Building on the success of their debut, ‘Samā’ī,’ Azmari blends jazz, oriental influences, dark funk, and dub beats into a captivating sonic tapestry. In a transformative recording journey, Azmari meticulously crafted their sound, blending old-school clavinet keyboards with modern synth tones. Influenced by artists like Okay Temiz and Sons of Kemet, Azmari defies labels, offering a unique musical experience. ‘Maëlström’ dives deeper into Azmari’s creative process, drawing inspiration from an underwater residency. Guided by producer Frederik Segers, the album explores underwater frequencies and abyssal sounds, resulting in a resolutely unique soundscape. Embark on a sonic odyssey with Azmari as they push the boundaries of musical expression and unveil the depths of ‘Maëlström.’

Photo by Monday Jr.

“A musical exploration melding intricate jazz textures with intoxicating oriental influences”

Azmari is a project that has been active for several years. Would you like to talk about your background and how the members of the band decided to get together and start the project?

We have been playing together for almost ten years now. It was Alexis Nootens, the band’s first guitarist, who first brought us together. His ambition was to create a reggae band. With the ska background of drummer Arthur Ancion and the blues experience of his saxophonist friend Mattéo Badet, he thought he had the perfect combination. However, the project quickly shifted away from reggae, as we wanted to explore something else. Indeed, together we discovered the piercing, melancholy sound of ethio-jazz. From there, we composed a first demo at the Pyramide studio (former RTBF premises) with the desire to go further. This was followed by a second demo with guitarist Guillaume Souffrice and singer Nadia Daou in 2017 and a first EP ‘Ekera’ on the Sdban label with saxophonist Yohan Dumas and percussionist Jojo Demeijer. One of Azmari’s strengths has been its collaboration with a number of musicians from different musical backgrounds who have joined the project. However, the core group present since its creation, comprising the quartet Arthur Ancion (drums), Basile Bourtembourg (keyboard), Mattéo Badet (tenor saxophone/baritone, caval flute), Niels D’haegeleer (bass), and Ambroos De Schepper (alto saxophone, flute) since 2019, has remained.

Since then, the band has composed two new albums still on Sdban label, ‘Samä’ï’ in January 2021 and ‘Maelström’ in October 2023.

Your latest album on Sdban Records is such a wonderful release. How much time and effort went into creating it? Would you like to share some further words about the recording and producing part of it?

Composing the latest album was a long journey. Probably also due to the COVID period, it was difficult to get together and find the energy to compose. So, this process took us a bit more than a year. It was a little longer than usual, but we wanted to create a set of tracks that could be more connected. In November 2022, we entered the Boma Studio in Ghent with some of the pieces still under construction. But thanks to the magic touch of producer and sound engineer Frederic Segers, the final result exceeded our expectations. Indeed, this new collaboration strongly influenced this latest album. Listening to the demos of the songs, Fred proposed a vision for the pieces. This could involve the use of a certain type of keyboard or even suggest a certain musical arrangement. During the recording sessions, Fred also played live with effects pedals and other machines, notably on the snare drum and keyboards. The resulting sound aesthetics are therefore very particular and specific to the universe of this musical encounter.

“The evolution of our albums is intrinsically linked to the musical evolution of the band itself”

Would you be able to draw any parallels to your previous two releases, and if so, what are some key differences on your latest album?

The evolution of our albums is intrinsically linked to the musical evolution of the band itself. This means that our music evolves according to the old and new influences and discoveries of each member of the band, such as working on a new rhythm pattern or using a new effect pedal. In the last album, however, we can feel that the sound aesthetic has evolved thanks to the collaboration with Frederik Segers as described in the previous question. Also, the composition technique between all albums remains often the same.

What would you say are some of the most important influences for you as a band? Do you work under some kind of creed or concept?

Of course, we’re very much inspired by ethio-jazz like Mulatu Astatke’s music as it’s one of our first influences, but we listen to a lot of different kinds of music from psych-rock with Kikagaku Moyo, passing by dub music with Adrian Sherwood to psych-jazz with The Comet is Coming. When you discover a sound you really like, it can be for many different reasons like the soundscape, the musical arrangement, the use of an unknown instrument, or even something you can’t explain but that brings you to a kind of trance state. Our concept is playing long improvisation sessions during which we develop different ideas. These sessions are recorded and then listened to in order to determine the moments that will be reused for the composition of new pieces. A work of composition and arrangement follows.

How would you describe the sound of Azmari?

The sound of Azmari is a musical exploration melding intricate jazz textures with intoxicating oriental influences, mesmerizing ethio-grooves, enigmatic dark-funk, and the pulsating pulse of dub music.

What are some future plans for the band?

In the next months, we would like to experiment with musical sessions in order to work on composition with new approaches but still in the mood of trance and improvisation. During these sessions, we would like to invite some musician friends to share this experimentation with us. There will also be new concerts from March and a summer tour for sure! And we have a new project for kids…

Are any of you involved with other projects? If so, please feel free to share about that.

Three of us (Niels D’haegeleer, Mattéo Badet, and Basile Bourtembourg) in the band play in M.Chuzi, which is an afro-psych-jazz band also based in Brussels. Ambroos de Schepper also plays in many other bands like Bandler Ching (contemporary jazz, electronics, hip-hop, noise, and global beats) in which he composes all the music, Kosmo Sound (instrumental dub live band), or Whoman (pop music).

Klemen Breznikar

Azmari Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube
Sdban Records Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube

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