Essia (Digipack)
  • Wajdi Riahi
    Wajdi Riahi
  • Basile Rahola
    Basile Rahola
  • Pierre Hurty
    Pierre Hurty

Wajdi Riahi

Essia (Digipack)

Fresh Sound New Talent

Wajdi Riahi (p), Basile Rahola (b), Pierre Hurty (d)

Reference: FSNT-668

Bar code: 8427328436687

This album unfolds as a true artistic odyssey, a journey where the aspirations of the  young pianist Wajdi harmoniously intertwine between rich classical melodies, the enchanting rhythms of Arabic and African music, and the jazz nuances that would later appear in his musical journey.

The very first track of the album, Opening transports us through the daily path he took from the age of six to reach the conservatory, nestled in the heart of the old city of Tunis: the Medina. His spirit was brimming with ambitions and an unwavering love for music and the piano, always guided by the benevolent presence of his mother, Essia.

Before entering the Medina, you could see a captivating statue of the philosopher and sociologist Ibn Khaldoun, which Wajdi admired every time he passed by. One of the philosopher’s quotes: “Agree, be hypocrite or leave the country,” inspired the title of the second track of the album: Agree, Hypocrite or Leave.

“Singing is a passion for me because it is the most sincere instrument and the most immediate way to express oneself. In this album, I aspire to offer an experience where my emotions reveal themselves to the listener with total simplicity and candor, without artifice or complexity, like a canvas of my purest feelings.”

Stambeli serves as the perfect setting for this artistic quest, an ancient North African musical style that transforms into an endless source of inspiration for Wajdi.

“I particularly appreciate paying tribute, and in this album, two songs are dedicated to exceptional women, Nawres and Essia, my sister and my mother, two remarkable women of beauty and life warriors.”

—Wajdi Riahi

01. Opening (Wajdi Riahi) 3:48
02. Agree, Hypocrite or Leave (Wajdi Riahi) 3:38
03. Yala Qawmi (Ahmed El Ouefi) 5:20
04. Inel Blues (Wajdi Riahi) 8:27
05. Nawres (Wajdi Riahi) 2:24
06. Road to... (Wajdi Riahi) 6:39
07. Akahaw (Wajdi Riahi) 1:04
08. Hymn to Stambeli (Wajdi Riahi) 7:44
09. Hroub (Wajdi Riahi) 2:06
10. Choral Stambeli (Wajdi Riahi) 3:21
11. Essia (Wajdi Riahi) 4:08

Album details

Wajdi Riahi (piano), Basile Rahola (bass), Pierre Hurty (drums).
Recorded at Studio La Buissone, Pernes-les-Fontaines, France, on June 19 & 20, 2023

Engineered & mixed by Gérard De Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Pictures: Valentine Jamis
Artwork: Sami Gharbi
Design: Basile Rahola

Produced by Wajdi Riahi, Pierre Hurty & Basile Rahola
Executive Producer: Jordi Pujol

This sound recording © 2023 by Fresh Sound Records
Blue Moon Producciones Discograficas, S.L.

Press reviews

"Jeune talent apparu sur les scènes bruxelloises, le pianiste Wajdi Riahi est de ceux qu’on aime suivre. Sélectionné avec son compère le batteur Pierre Hurty pour la neuvième édition de Jazz Migration au sein du quartet d’Adèle Viret, le jeune homme impressionne par la fluidité et la grande rigueur de son jeu, où la narration prend une large part. Avec Essia, («le réconfort» en arabe), Riahi signe son premier disque en trio, rejoint par le contrebassiste Basile Rahola, autre jeune pousse sous le soleil de Belgique. Avec «Opening» où le piano fouine du côté des émotions, on comprend vite que le musicien a grandi en Tunisie et veut ramener des souvenirs, au milieu des chkachek et d’un field-recording qui nous transporte vers un ailleurs. Un procédé qui fera songer à Trablos, le récent disque de Robin Antunes.

Tout est souvenir ici, sans pathos mais avec une élégance faite de retenue : «Inel Blues», où le pianiste s’abandonne à une introspection qui s’éloigne des formes plus sages du reste de l’album, permet de goûter le jeu d’une main droite soyeuse et doucement lyrique qui sait manier la nostalgie. À ses côtés, Rahola est un pilier discret qui s’offre parfois quelques détours, quand Hurty caresse les cymbales avec beaucoup de douceur. On songe, à l’écoute d’Essia, aux productions qui firent les beaux jours du label Sketch, à l’instar de «Hroub», où Riahi troque le piano pour le Fender, ou encore de «Road To» et son chant en arabe, où l’influence d’un pianiste comme Bruno Angelini infuse dans un album presque naturellement enregistré dans les studios de la Buissonne.

Essia, on l’a dit, c’est le réconfort, le soin. Loin des racines spirituelles et des envolées passionnées de Naïssam Jalal, la musique de Riahi puise dans la rythmique du piano d’autres vertus thérapeutiques, et surtout souligne son attachement pour cette culture méditerranéenne qu’il insuffle dans un jazz contemporain assez sage et élégant, à l’image de «Hymn To Stambeli», un rite de possession ancré dans la tradition tunisienne, proche de ce qu’on connaît par ailleurs chez les gnawas marocains. Essia est un album plein de promesses qui confirme tout l’intérêt porté à ces jeunes musiciens."

—Franpi Barriaux (4 Février, 2024)

"Given the ubiquity of jazz piano trios, it must be hard to sound original. But on their second album, this trio comprising Wajdi Riahi (piano, Rhodes), Basile Rahola (double bass) and Pierre Hurty (drums) do so with hypnotic performances of compositions that draw deeply from Riahi’s Belgian/Tunisian heritage.

The trio was formed in Brussels in 2020, Riahi having previously played and recorded with Rahola and Hurty in different projects. Their first album, Mhamdeya (2022), was largely European chamber jazz that touched only briefly on Tunisia, notably through Tunisian-inflected singing on the eponymous track ‘Mhamdeya’ and oud player Akram Ben Romdhane joining on ‘Hymn to Fazzeni’. On Essia, the Tunisian elements are more apparent, not only compositionally but also because several pieces add voice and chkachek.

The chkachek is a handheld metallic percussion instrument with a perfect onomatopoeic name (say it out loud and you’ll hear its sound). It’s used in stambeli rituals, where music is used to induce a trancelike state to draw a benign spirit into the body, to appease the spirit and heal its human host. Tunisian independence in the 1950s led to the banning of rituals, and until recently stambeli was at risk of extinction. But it’s inspired a new generation of musicians, including French and Tunisian electronic dance bands attracted by its trancelike rhythms. Riahi carries this spirit into the jazz realm, especially (and not surprisingly, given the track’s name) on ‘Hymn to Stambeli’ – one of the album’s longer tracks, whose emotional arc swells in rhythmic intensity. There’s a similar large emotional arc on tracks such as ‘Inel Blues’, which begins with sombre, deep piano notes that develop into European chamber jazz of growing intensity before melting back to quietude; and ‘Road to’, full of complex rhythms and contrasts.

Chant-like singing on several tracks reinforces the incantatory sense of stambeli, but rituals and European jazz are by no means the only inspirations on this deeply personal album. ‘Opening’ represents the route that Riahi took each day from the age of six to reach the conservatory in the old city of Tunis, and begins with muffled piano overlaying what sounds like a field recording of a busy street or marketplace, full of lively chatter, indistinct shuffling and what could be noises from hammers and chisels, the piano building in clarity and volume only to drop away to leave the sound of the crowd dispersing. ‘Agree, Hypocrite or Leave’ was inspired by a quote from Ibn Khaldoun, a philosopher and sociologist whose statue Riahi used to admire. And ‘Nawres’ and ‘Essia’ are named after his sister and mother respectively, both tracks gentle and intimate with whistling accompanying the piano, two miniature portraits in sound. The latter includes Rhodes as well as acoustic piano, an additional colour that’s also used effectively on the rhythmically strong ‘Hroub’.

Overall, it’s a beautiful album that takes the modern jazz piano trio in an exciting new direction. And given that they only started in 2020 and have already recorded two exceptional albums, they’re a trio worth watching as well as listening to."

—Julian Maynard-Smith (January 25, 2024)


10,95 €  (tax incl.)

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