…these three subtle players bring an open spirit into their work which has resulted in a genuinely mesmerising album.

Choux de Bruxelles

Yamen Martini (trumpet & flugelhorn); Piet Maris (accordion) and Otto Kint (upright bass)

Tales of briny foam, scented pines and dusty boots are staged with open-hearted tenderness on this début album from the trio of nomadic spirits, 3’Ain.

Prevailing winds off the coast of Ostend brought together the inventive bass player Otto Kint, intuitive accordionist Piet Maris and mercurial trumpeter Yamen Martini, who alighted in Belgium after a fleeting departure from Syria in 2013.

Their name is based on the 18th letter of the Arabic alphabet ع (often indicated in Arabic chat and SMS conversation as 3, and in transliteration as ‘ain, hence the name 3’Ain) and this is the album that follows their well-received self-titled 2020 EP.

All three have previously participated in theatrical projects, and their sense of the dramatic is much in evidence across this recording, as the three musicians present seven tales of intrigue and melancholy, which was released in the UK on 16th June 2023.

Despite the stripped back arrangements and the acres of space between notes, they weave a myriad of melodic and rhythmic textures into a dense magic carpet, destination unknown.

Across the seven tracks which meander through and beyond Romany routes, Bedouin Arabia and littoral landscapes, Maris’ wandering accordion winds around Martini’s plaintive horn and Kint’s intimately plucked strings.

The moral of these fables remains elusive as notes curve, stoop and creak expressively, but one truth arises from these clandestine harmonies: sharing stories is at the heart of human spirit.

The compositions throughout this album are complex and thoughtfully arranged, the stories carefully punctuated with considered grammar. There’s an insistence driving it forward; the tracks demand close listening with their ebbing, flowing tempos and unpredictable twists.

The album commences with Schuimkop, a curious, intricate piece. A buzzing, crooked drone note is fleshed out between instruments and octaves, then begins to waver, grace notes and turns leading towards an emotive solo from Martini which sways languidly with the tide.

Eastern modal intervals strain up to the harbour wall and retreat, becoming more frantic against Kint’s pizzicato then fading to allow Maris space to play a gentle, more reassuring melody which echoes the trumpet’s broken chords.

These two instruments then huddle deep down together, and from this dark space, rise again to give Kint the stage to share his soothing voice, accented by united chords from the two other players.

All join together to rediscover the broken chord motif and from these stepping stones reach a pinnacle which fades back into a comforting major tonality, the cadence yielding to a long single note, a more stable horizon.

Enigmatic characters flit between tracks: there’s a darkness to the laughter on track two, [Lacht], with its sinister whinnying and twangs. The cheerful good humour of the accordion rhythm in Perron is offset by a triumphant but sometimes furtive melody.

Each of the players brings their unique and complex voice, given space by the others to express themselves, yet also uniting in a common cry. Rhythm and tempo changes emphasise these dramatic rises and falls: in the album’s released single, Scrambled Ensor for instance, Maris sets off a melancholic dance rhythm, but this fades out completely at times as the instruments take their turns to solo.

It’s impossible not to start imagining a colourful theatre set and its mosaic of characters as the tracks slide along, leading you from a summery bal-musette to a fugitive forest campfire in a fleeting change of tonality.

From where does this wide-armed embrace of cultures come? Martini’s mastery of his Syrian style was founded in Damascus Conservatory, and has broadened to accommodate influences from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, where he travelled before settling in Europe.

He is surely inspired by – and deserves to be heard by – fans of Ibrahim Maalouf and Yazz Ahmed, and his muted portamento notes show more than a hint of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.

Belgian Piet Maris is a well-established figure in socially engaged cultural exchange in his home country. Founder of the band Jaune Toujours, famed for their explosive fusion of styles and sounds which have featured on the European festival scene for over two decades and in support of Manu Chao.

He also set up Choux de Bruxelles, an agency and record label with a collective soul and a link to the theatre through his wife, director Sarah Baur. Maris and Martini worked together on a theatre production together in 2016, and then invited the prodigious Kint to make up the trio that became 3’Ain.

Kint began playing the bass as a teen, going on to study a Masters in Antwerp, then studying in Italy, before working with Kris Defoort and becoming involved in numerous musical and theatre projects.

Music of such a theatrical nature could easily become clichéd or gratuitous, but these three subtle players bring an open spirit into their work which has resulted in a genuinely mesmerising album.