Ibrahim Maalouf – Kalthoum and Red and Black Light
(Impulse. CD Reviews by Peter Slavid)
My first and only encounter with Ibrahim Maalouf in person took place some years ago on a snowy evening in Glasgow during the Celtic Connections festival. Helping out backstage for his gig we discovered that because of the snow he would only arrive from the airport minutes before the start of the gig. Then we discovered that only his guitarist was with him – the rest of the band was still snowed in at Amsterdam airport. When he finally arrived, he just took it all in his stride, and the two musicians went on stage and stormed through an hour of great improvised music – and seemed to enjoy it enormously.
What that that taught me was that despite some occasional forays into pop music and other genres, this is a musician with the very best of jazz skills and credentials.
Maalouf was born in Lebanon, but grew up in Paris. He comes from a musical family, and his father was the inventor of the micro-tonal four-valve trumpet. That’s what makes it possible to play Arab quarter-tones on the trumpet, and what gives all his music such a distinctive sound. He is a prolific performer and composer and has worked with a string of pop, electro, world and jazz musicians.
His own albums though are usually firmly in the “world jazz” tray, and these two are no exception. The two albums – both tributes in homage to women – are however subtly different.
Kalthoum is a suite dedicated to the Egyptian diva Oum Kalthoum, and built around one of her greatest songs Alf Leila Wa Leila (The thousand and one nights). Recorded in New York with a fine band comprising Mark Turner (saxophone), Frank Woeste (piano), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Clarence Penn (drums) this is compelling jazz from the very first. It’s a terrific ensemble with all the musicians contributing. There are times when this could be straightforward American modern jazz, but the bent notes and the complex rhythms elevate it to something I consider to be much more interesting.
Red and Black Light has a different feel to it. The band has some equally fine, but very different musicians with Eric Legnini (keyboards), François Delporte (guitar) and Stéphane Galland (drums). Here the feel is much more electro-pop. So the riffs are more repetitive, sometimes trance-like and sometimes the soloing is too. There’s definitely a clubby feel to the whole thing, even to the extent of including a Beyonce track.
My personal preference is for Kalthoum, but I’m sure the style of Red and Black Light make the whole thing much more accessible for some non-jazz listeners, and the power of Maalouf’s trumpet manages to shine through in both CDs.
So two albums of different styles, both built around the distinctive and impressive trumpet sound of Ibrahim Maalouf. Which of the two you prefer will be a matter of personal taste. It will be interesting to see which version of Ibrahim Maalouf we get at his EFG London Jazz Festival gig at the Barbican on 17th November. It won’t be dull that’s for sure.
Peter Slavid broadcasts a weekly radio show at mixcloud.com/ukjazz