The syncopated beats and counter-culture attitudes synonymous with universal jazz culture have been swinging in the Arab world since the early twentieth century. The western Arabic region, the Maghreb, has historic ties with Andalucian Spain and the stamping off-beats heard in flamenco, which feeds back into local jazz expressions. The eastern Mashriq region has a solid jazz heritage underlined by the careers of musicians such as drummer Salah Ragab who worked with outer-planetary superstar Sun Ra. The oeuvre of the Beirut-born Rahbani brothers, did much to expand the jazz vocabulary of Lebanon. Jazz is still pulsing through the veins of Arabic homelands and this Rough Guide offers up an insight in to the scene.
Lebanon’s rich musical melting pot is to thank for many of the tracks on this album. Lebanese trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf’s opener, ‘Nomade Slang’, is anchored by an undulating double-time drum pattern with sharp stinging horn lines and inquisitive rising bass figures. It was Ibrahim’s musician father Nassim that altered his trumpet to four valves making it quarter-tone and allowing him to play Arabic maqamat (modes). Another Beirut-born musician contributes ‘A Better Tomorrow’. Rabih Abou-Khalil is a master oud player who brings out a slinky, seductive flavour with brushed drums and a languorous wind solo. The haunting track ‘Harrama el-Nawma’ is performed by Rima Khcheich, a singer from Khiam in the south of the country.
Ahmad Kaabour is also from Lebanon and a prominent cultural figure in the Middle East: his 1975 hit ‘Oundaikom’ became the anthem of the Palestinian struggle. ‘Abou Afif’ was released in 2012 and is a peppy, almost saccharine number that encapsulates the feel of modernist 1970s jazz with bright-toned funk-inflected keyboard and a chorus of female backing vocals.
Le Trio Jourban hail from Nazareth, Palestine and offer up the track ‘Masâr’, a gently pulsing performance that illuminates the iridescent delicacy of the stringed oud. Daramad count in the proceedings with the track ‘Tigris Eye’. The band’s line-up features a mix of Persian and Australian musicians allowing them to create a delicate musical dialogue that discusses the confluence of traditional Eastern music and improvised jazz.
Omar Faruk Tekbilek was born of Turkish and Egyptian parents and currently resides in America. ‘Dark Eyes’ is inspired by Sufi devotional music and ambient electronica. Maurice El Médioni stirs a potent punch with Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez on the closing track ‘Ana Ouna’. The piano part ripples around Arabic melodic patterns, turning and twisting in small oscillations, while a countering trumpet hammers home the Cuban big band aesthetic.
Includes Bonus Album 'Chemsi' by Hijaz
The bonus disc on this Rough Guide is provided by Arab jazz fusion band Hijaz. The band was formed in 2004, sprung from a collaboration between Tunisian master oud player Moufadhel Adhoum and Greek-Belgian pianist Niko Deman. Hijaz marries Western piano with the Eastern oud tradition. Moufadhel and Niko met a recording session with Tunisian singer Zohra Lajnef and their partnership grew organically from there. They are joined by fluid percussionist Chryster Aerts and rock solid bassist Rui Salgado. The rhythm section cite rhythms from Morocco to India atop of which oud and piano weave their innovative sonic tapestry.