"Mustapha Skandrani, a luminary of Algerian music, possessed a unique musical sense, able to transcend the borders of musical cultures to create a distinctive fusion of Arabic-Andalusian and European styles. Istikhbars and Improvisations, recorded in 1965 in Paris, is a solo piano album presenting a trans-Mediterranean crossover based on traditional Algerian vocal pieces known as istikhbars.
"Playing these istikhbars (which have roots in the Islamic Arab-Andalusian culture which flourished in Spain) on the piano - that quintessentially European instrument - Skandrani was greeted with derision by some purists. His powerful musical vision, however, perceives the European element involved in Arabic-Andalusian musical culture, a world of exchange and co-existence.
"Skandrani's modus operandi on this release is to present each istikhbar, modal in nature, then to play an improvisation based on it, and its attendant mode. This A/B alternation continues throughout. The pellucid clarity of Skandrani's playing on this album may remind the listener of a modal Goldberg Variations, Bach and Glenn Gould transplanted to Andalucia. Other ears will hear the Arabic/Maghreb elements more strongly. Skandrani's precise touch and clear, symmetrical rhythmic sense links both worlds, assuring us that the Mediterranean is not a barrier, but a unifier, and that the differences between the cultures are not so vast. This is an admirable achievement, resulting in beautiful music of a rare charm.
"Mustapha Skandrani was born in Algiers in 1920, and died there in 2005. He mastered a number of instruments at an early age, and his musical prowess led him to work with the great singers and ensembles of his day, in live performances, recordings, and radio broadcasts. Later in his life, he devoted much energy to education. Originally reissued by Em Records as a limited edition of 200 in 2012, now available once again, in offset printed sleeve, with insert of Japanese and English sleeve-notes and rare photos." - EM