by Ian Mann
August 03, 2022
Guest contributor Colin May enjoys two spectacular performances by the French Lebanese trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf.
Barbican Hall, London, 11 July 2022, and Scène Massena, Nice Jazz Festival, 15 July 2022
Ibrahim Maalouf (trumpet), François Delporte (guitar), Frank Woeste (keyboards),Mihai Pîrvan (saxophone) Yacha Berdah (trumpet) Pierre Gibbe (bass) Henry Was (drums) NuTone (DJ/computers)
French Lebanese trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf is probably the most popular jazz instrumentalist in France. So, it’s no surprise that there’s a big crowd for Maalouf when he makes one of his regular appearances on the Nice Jazz Festival’s main Scène Massena stage. His performances in the UK are much rarer, but a few days earlier there’s electricity in the air at a sold-out Barbican in anticipation of his first appearance in this country for many years.
Maalouf is inspired by his Arabic culture and uses a custom made trumpet that allows him to put Arabic maqams at the heart of his jazz. His creativity extends to writing film scores, an album of one being the Jazz Mann’s introduction to him (‘Wind’‘reviewed 10 April 2013 https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ibrahim-maalouf-wind ), and to composing a symphony, and to launching a classical improvising orchestra. I saw him performing a wonderful oratorio about the Queen of Sheba with world music star Angelique Kidjo that he and Kidjo had composed, and which is now out as his 16 th album. He seems to be a musical polymath who is always looking for the next project.
The London and Nice concerts both offered a preview of the latest turn in his music, his 17th album to be released in November,” “Capacity To Love”.
Maalouf explains, (he speaks good English), that he’s motivated by “not wanting my music to get old”, and by none of his previous 16 recordings, according to him, getting played on the radio.
While he has drawn on funk, electronic and rock previously, the concerts show now he’s taking this much further with a little help: “For the first time in 17 albums I have co-producers (Pierre Gibbe and NuTone two of the young recruits to his band from the worlds of hip hop, beats and electronica) and I am allowing someone else to tell me what to do.”
With the verbal equivalent of a Gallic shrug he suggests existing fans might be not be happy with the results, and the opening number, the album’s title track, is something of a rock fest featuring Maalouf’s long-time guitarist François Delporte.
Brazilian singer Flavia Coelo guests on a number based on Latin dance beats, and Henry Was’ powerful drumming is blended regularly with NuTone’s heavy electronic urban beats, over which a front line of Malouf, his two fellow brass players and the two guitarists play powerful waves of Arabic phrases. The whole is a transformation of Maalouf’s sound world.
There is a strange interlude where accompanied just by his guitarist, Maalouf debates with the audience whether middle of the road music is worth listening to and plays a game challenging them to identify fragments of popular songs. Is this to give the band and the audience a break? Is it an implicit message that everyone knowing these songs is an expression of our shared humanity, or maybe it’s about hoping for similar wide spread acceptance for the music he makes?
Maalouf does play one long meditative solo drawing out the notes in his familiar way. Then in the spirit of the concert he hands over to young sax player Mihai Pîrvan, who urged on by Maalouf to give more, produces a blistering cascade of Arabic notes making his instrument sound like a duduk. He is matched for fierceness by drummer Henry Was’ astounding solo. Primarily though it is an ensemble effort with Maalouf leading from the front, his conduction not only keeping the ensemble playing focused but getting some good singing out of both the Nice and the Barbican crowds.
Both concerts have the same superb light show in perfect synch with the music, but the impact is greater in the Barbican’s enclosed indoor space. With the Barbican also holding the pressure cooker atmosphere better the show there (and it is a show) is a visceral and engrossing immersive experience even sitting in the back row of the balcony. A jazz purist might have misgivings about the direction Maalouf is taking, but the ecstatic reaction at both venues suggests he will take his fan base with him. Only time will tell though if “Capacity To Love” will get Maalouf the radio plays and the wider attention he deserves.
For news of the release of “Capacity to Love” please visit
Nice Jazz Festival’s 75th Anniversary will take place 17th -21st July 2023
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