The string instrument called the oud is believed to be as much as 4,000 years old. It spread around the world along with Islam, and it was the precursor of the European lute, and by extension, the guitar.

Oud traditions are still evolving. The world's first known oud trio is made up of three Palestinian brothers. It's called Le Trio Joubran.

Banning Eyre has this review of the group's new recording, "Majaz."

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BANNING EYRE: Like the oud itself, the Joubran family has deep roots in Arab classical music. But brothers Adnan, Samir and Wissam Joubran, backed only by a percussionist, are pioneering new ground of that tradition.

The oud has long been the favorite composer's instrument, like the piano in Western classical music. The difference is that in Arabic music, finished works almost always feature vocalists with instrumentalists in strict accompaniment role. Le Trio Joubran create moody, interactive compositions in which their ouds do the singing.

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EYRE: The modern oud has a pear-shaped body, a small fretless neck, and 11 nylon strings, 10 of them paired to create a soft, feathered sound when plucked together. Among the 11 pieces on "Majaz," there are three solo improvisations played by each of the three brothers.

Here's Wissam.

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EYRE: Le Trio Joubran take inspiration from maverick figures in jazz and flamenco, traditions that also emphasize virtuosity and stylized improvisation. Sometimes, the three brothers play together in precise unison or merge their sounds to spin out rich, textured drones and ostinatos. At other times, they stand apart as distinct voices locked in passionate dialogue.

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EYRE: At one point, the three brothers break form and actually sing together on a traditional song called "Min Zaman."

(Soundbite of song, "Min Zaman")

EYRE: The CD title "Majaz" translates as metaphor or deep meaning. It's a suggestion that although they rarely resort to words, these brothers do have things to say. With mysterious, seductive eloquence, they communicate profound ideas about history, musical evolution, and the beautiful aesthetics of Arabic music, still far too little-known in Western societies.

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SIEGEL: The album is "Majaz" by Le Trio Joubran. Our reviewer Banning Eyre is senior editor at


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