by Ian Mann
April 10, 2013
Maalouf's synthesis of Miles Davis style modal jazz and Middle Eastern / Arabic music makes for a convincing artistic statement and an eminently interesting and enjoyable listening experience.
Released in February 2013 this magnificent album (his fourth) by the Lebanese born trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf has already gathered a great deal of critical acclaim. Now based in France the classically trained Maalouf (born 1980) was approached by the National Film Library of France to provide a soundtrack to a silent film of his choice drawn from those items of the Albatros catalogue that had been selected for republication.
Maalouf’s choice was the 1927 Rene Clair film “The Prey of the Wind” and whilst staying true to the spirit of Clair’s film the music is equally inspired by Miles Davis’ soundtrack to the 1958 Louis Malle film “Ascenseur pour l’echefaud” (variously known in English speaking countries as “Lift to the Scaffold” or “Elevator to the Gallows”). Maalouf speaks of the influence that the Davis soundtrack has had upon him “it has long haunted my days and my nights and kindled my love for the instrument that I play”. However in reproducing elements of the melancholy and suspense that characterised Davis’ score Maalouf was also seeking to bring something of himself to the music and does so through his use of the quarter tone trumpet (it has an extra/fourth valve) which adds a distinctive Middle Eastern / Arabic flavour to the music.
For the recording Maalouf chose to work with his long term collaborator the pianist Frank Woeste, who also contributed to the arrangements, plus an all star American team of Mark Turner (saxophones), Larry Grenadier (double bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). It’s a tribute to the abilities of these world class musicians that the album, recorded “live” at Systems Two Recording Studio in New York City, was completed in just half a day. The swiftness of the recording gives the music a thoroughly organic feel and although inspired by one film and written to accompany another the music stands as stands as a convincing artistic statement in its own right and is an eminently interesting and enjoyable listening experience.
The titles of the twelve pieces are enigmatic and are named after the moods and emotions suggested not just by the images in Clair’s film but by the creative process in general. The overall feel is sombre, inspired in part by Clair’s film and partly by the desire for a “certain artistic consistency” in the broad style of Davis. Opener “Doubts” with its distinctive Grenadier bass motif, luminous piano chords and velvet sounding trumpet is closest in spirit to Davis’ epochal “Kind Of Blue”.
The more forceful “Suspicions” with its rumbling piano chords introduces something of the “suspense” of which Maalouf speaks. There’s also a more distinctive vocalised, Arabic tone to his trumpet playing, albeit still within a recognisable modal jazz framework that also supports a memorable solo from Woeste at the piano. I’ll admit that Woeste was the only one of Maalouf’s collaborators that I’d not heard play before but the pianist/arranger impresses hugely throughout.
The spacious “Waiting” has a film noirish quality about it with sumptuous dialogue between Maalouf and Turner well supported by Grenadier’s deep bass undertow, Woeste’s sparse chording and Penn’s delicately brushed grooves. Again there’s a lonely, vocalised quality about Maalouf’‘s sound that speaks of his Lebanese roots.
“Questions & Answers” begins with a passage of spiky, off kilter grooves that lead into a rousing solo from Maalouf who delivers some of his most fiery playing of the set. His colleagues respond in kind, particularly Penn who clearly relishes the chance to flex his muscles. The piece eventually resolves itself in rather more mellifluous fashion.
“Waiting 2” offers a brief reprise of an earlier theme which acts as a prelude to the appropriately assertive “Excitement” which opens with a loquacious Turner solo over odd meter grooves. It’s the most playful track on the album with Maalouf’s own playing almost sounding like a pastiche that crosses the Middle East with Kurt Weill with New Orleans. Woeste is highly impressive as his foil and Penn also seems to be enjoying himself.
“Certainty” is a modal ballad that again conjures up memories of “Kind Of Blue” through Maalouf’s expressive trumpeting and Woeste’s flowingly lyrical piano.
“Sensuality” expresses itself through Penn’s Latin inflected grooves, Maalouf’s breathy, seductive trumpet and Turner’s slinky sax. There’s also splendidly strutting Grenadier bass solo and something of a feature for Penn.
There’s also some delightfully colourful drumming on “Issues” alongside some sumptuous unison lines for trumpet and saxophone and yet another winning bass feature from Grenadier. Maalouf’s own solo is typically majestic and the piece ends with an edgy passage with morse code like phrases and rhythms.
“Surprises” turns out to be coolly elegant ballad with both Maalouf and Turner at their most emotive above a backdrop of pellucid piano and delicately brushed drums. Woeste’s own solo features him at his most lyrical on this sumptuous and affecting piece of balladry. The piece ends with the sound of Penn’s brushes, sounding almost like far off static but which act as a link into a reprise of the opening theme, known here simply as “Doubts 2”. The Milesian feel is present again in the melancholy ring of Maalouf’s trumpet.
The album ends with “Mystery”, a suitably enigmatic piece that features the trio of Woeste, Grenadier and Penn only. It’s more freely structured than anything else on the album and begins with Woeste reaching into the innards of the piano, indeed one gets the impression that some passages may be entirely improvised. Woeste is at the heart of the piece and his dialogue with Penn is particularly engrossing with Grenadier playing a loosely anchoring role. It’s certainly a mysterious way to conclude an album that hitherto has been subtly but unmistakably dominated by the distinctive sound of the leader’s trumpet.
Maalouf’s synthesis of modal, Miles Davis style jazz and Middle Eastern / Arabic music makes for an interesting and enjoyable listen. The leader’s imperious playing is both technically brilliant and emotionally involving, he’s a highly fluent soloist and a convincing teller of musical stories. In Grenadier, Penn, Turner and Woeste he has the kind of inspired accompanists who respond to his ideas by not only offering sympathetic and intelligent support but by providing plenty of lucid solo statements of their own.
Without seeing Clair’s film it’s impossible to say if the music is totally successful as a soundtrack but in any event the album has gained a life of its own with the critical reaction to the music as a stand alone entity being almost overwhelmingly positive. This is a soundtrack record that has gained legs and established its own identity, so much so that Maalouf will be touring the album around Europe during April and May 2013. Dates shown below;
Ibrahim Maalouf - trumpet
Ira Coleman: Double Bass
Mark Turner: Saxophone
Frank Woeste : Piano
Clarence Penn: Drums
April 16th, 2013 Yzeure, France - Wind Tour
April 17th, 2013 Perigueux, France - Wind Tour
April 18th, 2013 Palaiseau, France - Wind Tour
April 19th, 2013 Elancourt, France - Wind Tour
April 20th, 2013 Luxembourg, LXBG - Wind Tour
April 21st, 2013 Etampes, France - Wind Tour
April 23rd, 2013 Boulogne Billancourt, France - Wind Tour
April 24th, 2013 Bruxelles, Belgium - Wind Tour
April 25th, 2013 Borgerhout, Belgium - Wind Tour
April 26th, 2013 Espoo, Finland - Wind Tour
April 27th, 2013 PARIS, France (Salle Pleyel) - Wind Tour
April 29th, 2013 Niort, France - Wind Tour
April 30th, 2013 La Teste de Buch, France - Wind Tour
May 1st, 2013 Saint Etienne, France - Wind Tour
May 2nd, 2013 Amiens, France - Wind Tour
May 3rd, 2013 Rive de Gier, France - Wind Tour
May 4th, 2013 Lons le Saunier, France - Wind Tour
May 6th, 2013 Villefranche sur Sa?ne, France - Wind Tour
May 7th, 2013 Cebazat, France - Wind Tour
May 8th, 2013 Budapest, Hungary - Wind Tour
May 10th, 2013 Uppsala, Sweden - Wind Tour
May 24th, 2013 PARIS, France (AUditorium du Louvre)- Cine-concert with students of Ibrahim’s improvisation class in the Conservatoire Regional Supérieur de Paris
Further information at http://www.ibrahimmaalouf.com