Many of the key pioneers in the history of Jazz had looked Eastwards in their explorations; Alice and John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Ahmed Abdul-Malik being some of the early trail-blazers. Beyond, tracing the ancient journey of what we know now as ‘jazz’ runs into deep explorations of the links between the Maghreb, Andalusia, flamenco, gypsy culture, the organology of stringed lutes… the list goes on. This Rough Guide explores the complexly bound relationship between jazz and the Arab world and is a lovingly crafted collection of some of the finest contemporary work on the international scene today.
Joseph Tawadro’s oud opens the album with ‘Forbidden Fruit’. Born in Cairo and living in Sydney since he was a toddler, Tawadro has made his international name melding the traditional Egyptian taqasim method of melodic improvisation with jazz harmony.
Akim El Sikameya plays fiddle and sings, the latter as heard on smooth groove ‘Ya Waadi’. Hailing from Algeria, Akim’s music audibly adventures on North Africa’s cultural connection to Europe and deals lyrics of exile direct from Akim’s personal experience.
Hijaz’s flautist Houssem Bel Kadhi steals the show on haunting track ‘Meltemia’, the ensemble building into a free jazz feel beneath his golden-toned breath-work on ney(ancient Middle Eastern flute).
The opening tracks on Side B come from outernational ensemble Out of Nations headed up by composer Lety. The band hails members from the USA, Europe and the Middle East but attempt to transcend the paradigm of authenticity within the world music scene by creating music that knits and stitches many traditions. ‘Zenneh’ opens the side with a bass guitar interlude, before we lock into ‘Khafif’ featuring oudplayer Hazem Shaheen.
Definitely the perkiest offering on the album comes with ‘Abou Afif’ from Ahmad Kaabour. Lebanese Kaabour is a prominent cultural figure in the Middle East and his 1975 hit ‘Oundaikom’ is known as the anthem of the Palestinian struggle. His tune featured here is retro, kitsch even, with bright keys, smiling chorus and ear-worm worthy lead melody.
Pianist Maurice El Médioni dances with percussionist Roberto Rodriguez on closing track ‘Ana Ouna’. Firmly invoking Cuba, El Médioni’s gymnastic fingerwork ripples atop distant trumpet, guiro and jazz bass. Hailing from the Jewish quarter of Oran, Algeria and now based between Paris and Israel, El Medioni’s music melds Latin and Middle Eastern sounds seamlessly.
And so we have it, our curation of some of the leading lights in jazz from the Arab world. The perfect jumping off point for deeper exploration of this most fascinating of jazz sub-genres.