Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rare, Auspicious New York Appearance by an Icon of Middle Eastern Jazz

One of the most potentially transcendent shows of 2022 happens tomorrow night, July 22 at half past eleven at Drom when pyrotechnic clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski’s slinky and reliably combustible NY Gypsy All-Stars team up with special guest trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf. The Lebanese-born Maalouf has been arguably the hottest commodity in French jazz (ok, for what that’s worth) for the last several years, and he deserves to be vastly better known outside of that world, or the Middle East, where he’s iconic. You can get in for thirty bucks in advance.

If you’re thinking of checking out the show, a good place to start is his double album 40 Melodies – streaming at youtube – yet another of those releases from the dead of 2020 which hasn’t received the coverage it deserves. It’s basically a greatest-hits collection of stripped-down jukebox jazz versions of the songs that made him famous. Most of these new arrangements are duos with guitarist Francois Delporte, who makes an sparring partner whether playing spare, spiky rock rhythm, mimicking the voicings of an oud, or cutting loose with the occasional ferocious roar.

The result is more Middle Eastern music played on western instruments than it is jazz. The opening number, All Around the Wall has a neatly stylized yakuza-film video to match as Maalouf shifts from shadowy Middle Eastern chromatics to a catchy, circling western riff while the guitar rises in the mix. Several of the tunes that follow – a Lebanese sonata of sorts – remind very much of another brilliant trumpeter, Ben Holmes, whose fondness for edgy chromatics and use of space reflects a somewhat different adjacency, klezmer music.

This is a long album, 43 tracks that expand from stately, often somber levantine melodies, through classical High Romanticism, a couple of dips into reggae, dabke and occasional latin or flamenco flavors. Maalouf is at the top of his meticulous game with his quicksilver melismas and maqam microtones all the way through Beirut, a gorgeously vamping chromatic melody spiced with delicious microtonalities over a resonant, jangly guitar backdrop. Eventually Maalouf puts in his mute and then Delporte hits his distortion pedal, and the song explodes.

Some of the many other highlights include a gorgeous, syncopated ballad version of S3NS and Les Quais, with guests the Kronos Quartet drifting methodically along with the guitar and Maalouf’s uneasy bounces overhead. There’s also Radio Magellanes, which shifts from somber traditionalism to an airy lull and then a bittersweetly triumphant drive out; and remakes of a couple of absolutely gorgeous early tunes. In Improbable, Maalouf and Delporte revisit but also revise the original’s pervasive gloom, later making mellow Hendrix out of the otherwise uneasily shifting Shadows. The sense that this is a theme and variations, even more brooding than the earlier part of the album, enhances the intensity as the record winds up.

The most potentially loaded title here is Election Night, which dates back to 2018, so there’s at least one ferociously contested moment it doesn’t reflect. Jury’s out about the earlier one. The song itself is a hoot, the most boisterous – and maybe sarcastic – number here.

July 21, 2022 - Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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