Amina Alaoui and her fellow musicians on Arco Iris give us enchanting non-Western roots music. The ensemble includes Alaoui as vocalist, accompanied by violin, oud, flamenco guitar, mandolin and percussion players. As far as I can tell they're skilled on their instruments, but no trace of showy virtuosity is evident. This is direct transmission from soul to soul.
The music is traditional, although apparently not slavishly so; Alaoui and the musicians on the album are credited with the lyrics of some songs. (The words to others are by St. Theresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, and other long-ago sources such as Ibn Zaydun de Cordoba, whose dates are given as 1003-1071.)
The most obvious influences are fado and flamenco, but the spirit of North Africa is rarely far away -- in turn, carrying echoes of campfires in Arabian nights and winds carving the sand. Nothing could be farther from the calculated, synthetic music of the pop charts and Grammy awards.
ECM's guiding light and producer, Manfred Eicher, has always made a point of audiophile recording standards and has done so here. Listening on the AKG 701 headphones, Alaoui and her partners sound almost physically present.