Every music has its supreme creative force, be it the titan among symphonists, the King of Swing or the Godfather of Soul. Sunday night Munir Bashir, the acknowledged Emir of the Oud, was introduced locally at the Terrace Theater via Platform International, a Washington-based organization that brings artists from around the world to this country.
The oud (Arabic for wood) is a Middle Eastern lute that has been around for 13 centuries, undergoing substantial revisions as it spread east and west. Bashir, who hails from Iraq, is to the oud what Segovia was to the classical guitar -- the unsurpassed master. Bashir's custom-built instrument contains three sound holes and five double strings plus an extra bass string situated beside the highest string. Like all ouds, it is fretless, which allows for the mesmerizing quarter tones that give spice to this music.
Five pieces performed by Bashir all followed a basic formula. A long, carefully deliberated opening statement evolved into an elaborate, at times wildly so, improvised section (known as the taqsim) reiterating tones of a melody within the given mode (maqam). Tonal choices and how effectively the player develops them are what sustain interest. Bashir captivated the crowd with a less-is-more approach of mostly single-note attacks, saving decorative flurries for where they counted most. Strumming the oud at one point, he reminded one of a flamenco guitarist beginning a malaguenåa.